Peretz: Egyptian presence contributes to regional stability
At start of his meeting with Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, defense minister says, 'Suleiman greatly contributes to stability in the Middle East and to promotion of relationship between moderate forces in region.' In light of concern over arms smuggling from Egypt to Gaza, officials discuss deal for release of Gilad Shalit and Palestinian prisoners
At the start of the meeting, Minister Peretz said that "there is no doubt that Suleiman has made many contributions to the stability in the Middle East and to the promotion of the relationship between the moderate forces in the region."
The two refused to elaborate on the details of their discussion regarding the talks for Shalit's release "for reasons of sensitivity," they said.
Peretz praised the Egyptians for their activities to stop the arms smuggling to the Gaza Strip, but claimed that there was room for improvement. The two agreed to boost the security cooperation between them.
The Israelis also presented Suleiman with data gathered in Israel on weapon smuggling from Egypt to Gaza.
Peretz and Suleiman (Photo: Ofer Amram)
General Suleiman has been discussing the issue of the kidnapped Israeli solder in the past four months with Ismail Haniyeh's government and with Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal, in Damascus and in Cairo.
Although there has been some progress in the stances of the Israelis and the Palestinians, the deal has yet to be finalized and it is possible that Suleiman will ask Israel to be more flexible.
However, what the defense minister is particularly concerned about is the smuggling of weapons and explosives from Egypt to the Gaza Strip.
The issue continues to bother Israel, also in light of the fear that the current ceasefire will serve as a catalyst for Palestinian terror organizations to rearm for a new round of violence.
Peretz seeks to ensure that Egypt in fact plans to exert its pressure and close the border on the Philadelphi route and along the western Negev.
'Shalit's release a trust-building step'
Meanwhile Wednesday, the military court at the Kishon prison decided to release on bail of NIS 50,000 (about USD 11,600) Palestinian Public Works and Housing Minister Abdel Rahman Zidan after almost a month in jail.
Zidan's attorney said despite the long arrest, no evidence was found against him. The court said that the ceasefire made his release possible.
General Suleiman is expected to meet Wednesday afternoon with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Mossad Chief Meir Dagan and National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.
Olmert’s aides in Jerusalem said they did not expect big news concerning the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Hamas’ demands – the release of hundreds of prisoners – were known.
Suleiman, who is in close contact with Olmert's representative Ofer Dekel, recently met with Hamas politburo Chief Khaled Mashaal, but did not come to close a deal. According to the associates, he would update the prime minister and the defense minister, but would offer nothing more.
Sources in Jerusalem said, “The release agreement, if it were to be executed, would come as a trust-building step following the establishment of a new Palestinian unity government.”
Ali Waked contributed to the report