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Egypt Says Israeli Housing Plans Undermine Peace Process


An Egyptian presidential spokesman says Israeli plans to build homes on occupied land in and around Jerusalem are undermining the Mideast peace process.

Suleiman Awwad said Wednesday that Israel's housing plans undercut what he says is the only achievement of last month's U.S.-sponsored peace conference - the relaunch of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Awwad was speaking after a meeting between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Israel says it has a right to build homes in Jerusalem and nearby settlements to accommodate what it describes as the "natural growth" of communities.

Awwad accused Israel of trying to distract attention from the housing controversy by complaining about Egyptian efforts to secure the Egypt-Gaza border.

Israel has long argued that Cairo is not doing enough to stop Palestinian militants smuggling weapons into Gaza through tunnels under the border.

Awwad says Egypt is making a 100 percent effort to secure the Egypt-Gaza border, but cannot guarantee 100 percent results in stopping smugglers.

Israeli officials have handed videotapes to U.S. and Egyptian officials that they say show Egyptian border guards helping the weapons smugglers.

Awwad says the allegations do not reflect the reality at the border. He also accused Israel of pressing the U.S. Congress to withhold military aid from the Egyptian government over the smuggling issue.

Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem Wednesday, two U.S. lawmakers, Republican Senator Arlen Spector and Democratic Congressman Partrick Kennedy, said the U.S. could make aid to Egypt conditional on Cairo doing more to halt arms smuggling.

Israeli officials say Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet Thursday to try to move the peace talks forward. The two sides held a round of talks Monday, but failed to make progress.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.