Israeli foreign minister Lapid visits Egypt to boost ties

Dec 10, 2021: The Israeli foreign minister has arrived in Cairo on a diplomatic visit aimed at strengthening ties between Israel and Hamas rulers in Gaza and pushing for a ceasefire.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met Thursday with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, reflecting the emerging relationship between Egypt and Israel’s new government. The meetings were also attended by Egypt’s intelligence chief.

Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, has been a key mediator between Israel and Hamas. The two enemies have fought four wars since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007, most recently the 11-day Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, which began on May 10 and killed at least 253 Palestinians, including 66 children with more than 1,900 people in wounded, according to the health ministry. During the same period, rockets fired by Hamas and other armed groups from Gaza killed at least 12 people in Israel, including three foreign workers and two children.

Egypt has since been working quietly to arrange a long-term truce.

Hamas is demanding that a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade be eased, while Israel is seeking the release of two Israeli captives and the remains of two dead soldiers held by Hamas.

Israel’s foreign ministry said Lapid presented a plan to develop Gaza’s economy in return for assurances of quiet, and eventually disarmament, by Hamas. It said the plan must address “the issue of captives and missing persons”.

Lapid also discussed Israeli efforts to strengthen the rival Palestinian Authority, whose forces were toppled by Hamas in 2007.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas governs only limited autonomous areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Lapid raised Israel’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme and expressed his country’s desire to ramp up cooperation with Egypt in the civilian fields of economics, energy, agriculture, and trade, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

During separate talks with his Egyptian counterpart, Lapid handed over 95 stolen Egyptian archaeological items that were seized in Israel.

Egypt and Israel signed a landmark peace agreement in 1979. Recent months have seen increasing signs of overall cooperation. Lapid’s visit came three months after Bennett spoke with al-Sisi in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. This is the first official visit to Egypt by an Israeli prime minister in more than a decade. At the time, the visit signaled a warmth in a relationship that focused on security but was somewhat cooler under Bennett’s predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu.

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