'Rafah won't open until Schalit return'

Mubarak says Cairo "making efforts for his release;" PM praises his host's attempts "to end terror."

Mubarak 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Mubarak 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak assured Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at their meeting in Sharm e-Sheikh Tuesday that the Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Sinai will not be opened until significant progress is made toward the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, officials in the Prime Minister's Office said. That was one of the terms of the cease-fire brokered by Cairo between Israel with Hamas. Under the terms of the agreement, intensive talks for the release of Schalit are to take place in parallel with talks on re-opening Rafah. The prime minister's point man on the prisoner issue, Ofer Dekel, is expected to go to Cairo this week to begin the intensive talks on Schalit, with Egyptian mediators expected to shuttle from the Israeli delegation to the Hamas delegation in the city in an effort to close a deal. An official in Olmert's entourage said that he and Mubarak met alone for an hour, and then for another 90 minutes together with advisers. Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev said it "is very important that the two leaders meet. Egypt and Israel have a peace treaty, and their peaceful relationship is a foundation for regional stability." Olmert thanked Mubarak for Egypt's efforts in securing a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and said both Egypt and Israel had an interest in Gaza not becoming a focal point for regional instability and terrorism, Regev said. "There is much room for us to cooperate," he said, an apparent reference to efforts to stop the arms smuggling from Egypt into the Strip. The two leaders also talked about the negotiations with the Palestinians, the indirect talks with Syria - which Egypt has spoken favorably about - and "other regional issues," a common metaphor for Iran, Regev said. Prior to his meeting with Mubarak, the London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat published an interview with Olmert in which he was quoted as saying that tangible progress had been made in talks with the Palestinians on refugees, borders and security arrangements. According to Olmert, Jerusalem would only be discussed in the final stage of talks because it was "volatile." However, he expressed hope that the two sides could overcome the obstacles and reach an agreement on the fate of the capital. The prime minister brushed aside recent reports of a possible meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad on the sidelines of next month's Mediterranean nations conference in Paris, saying that such a meeting "is not the reason for my participation in the conference." He also claimed it was Syria rather than Israel that insisted that the indirect talks between Jerusalem and Damascus be made public. "In the past, they have not done so, and it is an important and positive thing," he said in reference to the Syrian's insistence on disclosure, reiterating that a peace agreement with the Syrians must take the place of Damascus's relationship with the Iranians. "Let us be honest and clear: Does it make sense that we will sign a peace treaty with Syria and open an embassy in Damascus, and that they will open an embassy in Tel Aviv... and Syria-Iran ties will remain as-is?" Regarding the Gaza truce, Olmert warned that continued weapons smuggling from Sinai into the Strip "will be a breach of the truce agreement, and we will be forced to return to military action." Olmert expressed real hope that a peace deal with the Palestinians could be hammered out by the end of 2008. Talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas were not only about a statement of principles but rather an attempt to attaining a real, detailed agreement, he said. The prime minister reiterated Israel's commitment to denying Iran a nuclear weapon. "We cannot sit on our hands in the face of the nuclearization of [a country] that calls for Israel's destruction day in and day out," he said, adding that the "Iranian problem" was not only Israel's to deal with, but pertained to the US, Russia, Europe, Japan and even the Arabs. He demanded that all of the parties work together to deny Iran military nuclear capabilities. Olmert refused to divulge any information regarding reports that an extensive IAF drill over Greek waters some 1,500 kilometers away from Israel was meant to simulate an attack against Iran's nuclear facilities, which are also approximately 1,500 kilometers away. "We did not measure the distance," he said, asking the interviewer to "leave it alone. "These are maneuvers that are part of the IDF's preparations for facing up to the challenges that Israel faces," he said.