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Israeli Minister: Palestinians not 'Real Partner' - 2002-01-30

For the first time in more than 18 months, a top Israeli government official visited Egypt to discuss ways to re-start peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel's defense minister, Binyamin Ben Eliezer, says his country is committed to peace with the Palestinians, but it does not have a "real partner for negotiations." Since a series of Palestinian attacks in December, Israel has refused to deal with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Ben Eliezer spoke to reporters following a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the Egyptian resort Sharm el Sheik.

Mr. Mubarak, who was standing alongside the defense minister, said there was no alternative to Yasser Arafat and added that he believed the Palestinian leader would help curtail the violence. The Egyptian leader said he told Mr. Arafat to do his best to help calm the situation.

The Egyptian president said his talks with the Israeli defense minister are part of his efforts to restart peace negotiations, following months of Palestinian-Israeli violence.

Mr. Ben-Eliezer acknowledged that Egypt, because of its key role in the region, could play an important part in contributing to the advancement of the peace process.

He said peace in the Middle East required all parties in the region, including Syria, to sit down at the negotiating table.

Syria has said it is ready resume talks with Israel on the condition negotiations re-start at the point they left off in January of 2000. That is when the U.S.-sponsored talks broke down over the issue of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

President Mubarak said he and Mr. Ben Eliezer had agreed to continue to exchange views on Middle East issues.