Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrived in Egypt yesterday and went straight into talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the fragile truce in the Gaza Strip.
“The two leaders will speak about what happens after the truce,” which came into force last Thursday between the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas and Israel in and around Gaza, an Egyptian presidential source said.
The two were also expected to discuss Cairo’s bid to broker a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas which rules Gaza.
The meeting in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh was announced by Olmert’s office just hours after the Egyptian-mediated ceasefire in the Gaza Strip took hold after months of bloodshed.
“The two leaders will discuss the situation in Gaza, where Egypt played a crucial role in achieving the calm. This is a fragile situation and we want to talk about where this is going,” Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev said.
As the two leaders went into the talks, Mubarak said that “we will discuss [captured Israeli soldier Gilad] Shalit and we are putting efforts into this issue,” a Hebrew translation from the Arabic said.
On arrival, Olmert hailed the role that Egypt has played “to stop the terror against Israeli citizens.”
In the first breach of the truce since it took effect, a mortar round fired from northern Gaza landed on the Israeli side of the border overnight without causing injuries or damage, the Israeli army said.
The truce has otherwise held, with Israel halting military operations in Gaza and Gaza-based Palestinian militants ceasing their rocket attacks.
But because the truce does not apply to the occupied West Bank — where Israel says it must keep up military operations to protect its citizens — many fear an escalation in violence there could jeopardize the agreement.
Israeli troops killed two young Palestinians at dawn yesterday in the West Bank town of Nablus, Palestinian hospital and security sources said.
Egypt played a key role as mediator in brokering the ceasefire as Israel rejects direct contact with the Hamas, which it blacklists as a terrorist group.
The deal earned Olmert heavy domestic criticism for not making the truce conditional upon Hamas releasing army Corporal Shalit, captured two years ago in a deadly cross-border raid.
Olmert and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak have vowed that the truce deal included an explicit commitment by Hamas to make progress in the talks on Shalit’s release in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians jailed in Israel.
Without progress, Israel said it would not agree to the reopening of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
“The issue of Gilad Shalit will be raised. Both states have a joint interest in putting this issue behind us. Ultimately, we want to see the situation in Gaza stabilized,” Regev said.
Olmert’s special envoy for the prisoner exchange deal, Ofer Dekel, also planned to travel to Egypt yesterday for a new round of talks with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who mediates between Israel and Hamas.
Shalit’s parents on Sunday asked Israel’s Supreme Court to instruct the state not to open the Rafah crossing before Gilad, 21, is released or before Hamas vows to release him.
The state prosecution said in its reply to the Supreme Court that following the agreement, “intensive talks” on a prisoner exchange deal were expected to begin this week.
Israel also insisted that under the agreement Egypt would do its utmost to halt weapons smuggling from the Sinai peninsula into Gaza, an issue that has strained ties between the two states which have a 1979 peace treaty.
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