SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AFP) – Israeli President Shimon Peres arrived in Egypt on Thursday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak on Middle East peacemaking and Cairo’s efforts to broker a prisoner swap with Hamas.
Peres, who was welcomed by Mubarak amid pomp and ceremony in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, said he would seek Egypt’s help to win the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Gaza militants more than two years ago.
The two leaders will also discuss Israel-Palestinian peace talks which have been put on the backburner as Israel awaits the formation of a new government following the resignation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has been struggling to set up a new coalition government to replace Olmert who resigned last month to battle a string of corruption scandals.
Israel and the Palestinians relaunched peace talks last November at a US-hosted conference with the ambitious goal of reaching a deal by the end of 2008, but most observers believe that is unlikely.
An Egyptian official said the meeting will also focus on a Gaza truce between Hamas and Israel brokered by Egypt in June and due to expire in December as well as Egyptian efforts to reconcile the rival Palestinian factions.
The two heads of state are meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, where Peres — who unlike Mubarak holds a mainly ceremonial post — will also hold talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit and Defence Minister Hussein Tantawi.
The two octogenarian leaders will discuss relations between the neighbouring states which signed the first ever Arab-Israeli peace treaty in 1979, a senior aide to Peres told AFP.
But the talks will focus namely on Egypt’s attempts to secure the release of Shalit who was seized by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip during a deadly cross-border raid in June 2006.
“We need Egypt to support the release of the soldier. It is obvious that Egypt has a much easier dialogue with the forces holding Gilad,” Peres told reporters before boarding a plane for Egypt.
Last week Peres said that indirect talks with Hamas to secure Gilad’s release had been renewed.
Shalit’s father on Wednesday pleaded with his son’s captors to show proof that he is alive. “We must act quickly,” Noam Shalit told a Paris news conference. “This is why I am making an appeal to the kidnappers. I ask them to provide indisputable proof that he is alive.”
Peres said the meeting with Mubarak will also focus on the Islamist movement Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in June 2007 after routing forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Egypt has in recent months assumed a crucial role in mediating between Israel and Hamas, which does not recognise the Jewish state. Israel along with the United States and the European Union blacklists Hamas as a terrorist group.
Hamas has demanded that Israel release about 1,400 Palestinian prisoners, including hundreds who have been implicated in deadly attacks on Israelis, according to a senior Israeli defence official.
Israel and Hamas both agreed to a six-month Egyptian-brokered truce in and around the Gaza Strip on June 19, ending months of fighting.
Although both sides have largely observed the fragile agreement, little visible progress has so far been made in the talks on a prisoner exchange, with Israel voicing reluctance to free many of those demanded by Hamas.
Peres also said he and Mubarak will discuss Iran, the global financial crisis and a Saudi-brokered peace initiative with Israel stipulating Arab recognition of the Jewish state in return for an Israel withdrawal from occupied Arab land.