Netanyahu to hold talks in Egypt


Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today he would hold talks in Egypt on Tuesday with president Hosni Mubarak to seek ways to promote Middle East peacemaking.

"I believe we have an interest in moving the peace process forward in a variety of ways," Mr Netanyahu, announcing the visit, told reporters at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

Mr Netanyahu said he had requested the meeting with Mr Mubarak after talks that Egypt's intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, held in Israel last week. "I intend to continue this important dialogue," he said.

Egypt and Germany are mediating a prisoner trade between Israel and Hamas under which the Islamist group, in charge of the Gaza Strip, would release captured soldier Gilad Shalit and Israel would free some 1,000 of the 11,000 Palestinians in its jails.

Hamas leaders are weighing Israel's response to a proposed swap. Officials familiar with the negotiations said Israel has ruled out releasing a handful of top Palestinian militants serving life sentences for orchestrating lethal attacks.

Israel, the officials said, was also intent on barring between 100 and 120 Palestinian prisoners from returning to the occupied West Bank, which is close to Israel's main cities, and wants them to be sent to Gaza or abroad.

"At this stage there is no deal and it is not clear to me whether there will be one," a participant in today's cabinet meeting quoted Mr Netanyahu as saying.

Mr Netanyahu last visited Egypt in May, meeting Mr Mubarak in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where the Israeli leader pledged to pursue talks with the Palestinians.

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been suspended for the past year.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has said talks could resume only if Israel halted all settlement construction on land it captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. He has rejected as insufficient a limited moratorium on new building in West Bank settlements that Mr Netanyahu imposed last month.