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Israeli prime minister visits Egypt in first official trip for a decade

Israeli cabinet meeting
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a cabinet meeting at the Ministry of foreign affairs offices in Jerusalem, September 12, 2021. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS

September 13, 2021

CAIRO (Reuters) -Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday for talks on Israeli-Palestinian relations and bilateral issues, Egypt’s presidency said, in the first official trip by an Israeli head of government to Egypt for a decade.

Bennett, the head of a far-right party who took office in June, was invited to visit by Sisi last month and the two were due to meet in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on the southern tip of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

The discussions were expected to address “ways and efforts to revive the peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians, Egypt’s presidency said in a statement, as well as bilateral and regional matters.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in 2014 and analysts say there is little prospect of reviving them. Bennett, a nationalist atop a cross-partisan coalition, opposes Palestinian statehood.

One focus of Monday’s talks will be the situation in the Gaza Strip, where Egypt helped broker a ceasefire after 11 days of conflict in May between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian faction that controls the enclave, diplomatic and security sources said.

An uptick in cross-border violence since late August has tested the fragile truce. Over the past week, Palestinian militants have fired rockets into Israel for three nights in a row, drawing Israeli air strikes.

BORDER CROSSING

Bennett and Sisi were also expected to discuss regional issues, including Iran’s influence in the Middle East and the crisis in Lebanon, diplomats said.

The trip appeared to give transport links between the two countries a boost.

The Taba crossing between Israel and Sinai, an entry point for Israeli tourists, would become fully operational from Monday as restrictions put in place during the coronavirus pandemic were lifted, Israel’s transport ministry said.

From October, Egyptair would begin operating several flights a week between Cairo and Tel Aviv, sources at the Egyptian national carrier said.

Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 but relations have remained cool, restricted to security cooperation and limited economic links.

Egypt’s brokering of the Gaza truce allowed it to reassert its diplomatic role https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/gaza-truce-shifts-focus-egypts-regional-role-2021-05-30 in the region in the wake of deals by four Arab states to normalise ties with Israel last year.

The last official visit by an Israeli prime minister to Egypt was when Benjamin Netanyahu met former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in January 2011 in Sharm el-Sheikh, just before the uprising that toppled Mubarak.

(Reporting by Mohamed Waly, Aidan Lewis, Abdelnasser Aboulfadl, Maayan Lubell and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Toby Chopra, Hugh Lawson and Alex Richardson)

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