khaled mashaal 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [File])
Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer ruled out the possibility of Israel retaking Gaza over the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, following a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo Thursday.
Asked by journalists there if Israeli forces would reoccupy Gaza, Ben-Eliezer said: "Never, never, never, never."
He also blamed Hamas's exiled political leader Khaled Mashaal for vetoing an Egypt-brokered prisoner swap that would have returned Shalit in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
Ben-Eliezer said his government "accepted and respected" the proposed prisoner swap. "But at the last minute, the whole issue was changed by Hamas and mainly by Khaled Mashaal."
Egypt has also blamed Hamas for the delay and demanded Hamas immediately release Shalit to avoid a worsening crisis in the Gaza Strip.
A Ben-Eliezer aide characterized the visit as "very successful" in terms of the personal rapport between the two leaders and expressed satisfaction that a visit of this level was able to take place between Israelis and Egyptians on the heels of the divisive war this summer in Lebanon.
Ben-Eliezer also met with General Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, as well as the Egyptian foreign minister, oil minister and various intellectuals. He spoke with the Egyptians about energy resources as well as the Palestinian issue, Syria and Iran.
Palestinian Interior Minister Said Siyam was also in Cairo Thursday, where he accused Israel of torpedoing the prisoner swap. "The deal failed or was halted because there are those who want to release the Israeli soldier for nothing," Siyam told reporters Wednesday.
Ben-Eliezer's talks with Mubarak came amid rising tension over Israel's military operation along the Egypt-Gaza border.
IDF tanks this week have been searching for smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, killing at least two terrorists in the process. Troops took up positions along parts of the frontier for the first time since Israel withdrew from the coastal strip last year.
Israel says the current operation was aimed at uncovering more tunnels, but it sparked fear among Palestinians that Israel might be planning to retake Gaza, which it abandoned in summer 2005 after 38 years of occupation.
Mubarak's spokesman, Suleiman Awad, also said Ben-Eliezer assured the Egyptian leader that Israel had no intention of staying in Gaza.
"Any deterioration in Gaza will further complicate the situation," Awad quoted Mubarak as saying.
AP contributed to this report