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Israel-Egypt Meeting Clouded by West Bank Violence
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Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday afternoon held an about two-hour talk with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on ways to restart Mideast peace process.

The two leaders met in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in the Sinai Peninsula, the second such meeting in this resort in seven months. Back in June 2006, the two discussed the stalled Mideast peace process, only two months after Olmert assumed his post.

At a joint press conference after the meeting, Mubarak, whose country has long been a mediator between Palestine and Israel, said he told Olmert of Egypt's condemnation and rejection of Israel's military operation in Ramallah.

"The security of Israel and the region could only be achieved through just peace," Mubarak said, calling for an immediate cessation of all violence and an end to all practices hindering peace efforts.

Several hours before the Mubarak-Olmert summit, the Israeli army raided Ramallah to pursuit alleged "wanted men," during which three Palestinians were killed and up to 20 others injured.

Olmert said he regretted any innocent Palestinian civilian casualties caused by the attack. However, he defended the army raid, stating Israel's obligation to take actions to protect its population from "terrorists."

Olmert said his discussions with Mubarak included issues such as a prisoner swap deal between the Palestinians and Israel, the resumption of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations as well as the smuggling of weapons and funds into the Gaza Strip through Egypt's Sinai border area.

Mubarak immediately decried at Olmert's concern. "Egypt's laws allow the entry of funds (into Gaza) as long as they are declared and we enforce the Egyptian laws, not other laws," Mubarak said.

On the smuggling of weapons, Mubarak said Egypt did its best to prevent tis action, "but no country in the world can prevent the smuggling and I think the liaison committees could play a role in this respect."

Mubarak said the Egyptian efforts are aimed at breaking the deadlock crippling the Middle East peace process and going ahead with trust-building measures to pave the way for resuming Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

Egypt wishes peace and good will and will continue its work to achieve a just and durable peace in the Middle East, said Mubarak.

Mubarak's country has been mediating a prisoner swap deal, involving captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive by Palestinian militants since June 25 last year, and Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Asked about when such a deal could take place, Mubarak said Egypt is still working closely with concerned parties on this issue and a deal would be struck in the near future, but he declined to set a timetable.

Earlier in the day, Israel's daily newspaper Ha'aretz reported on its website that Egypt had already floated the possibility of holding a subsequent regional summit with additional participation of the leaders of Jordan and the Palestinian territories.

Yet at the press conference, neither Mubarak nor Olmert confirmed the report.

(Xinhua News Agency January 5, 2007)

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