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Egypt struggling to defuse Mideast crisis - Daily News Egypt

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Egypt struggling to defuse Mideast crisis

Agence France-Presse CAIRO: Egypt is trying to defuse a rapidly escalating crisis over the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants but has so far little to show for its efforts despite the involvement of President Hosni Mubarak. President Hosni Mubarak is in overall command and the head of the intelligence service, Omar Suleiman, …


Agence France-Presse CAIRO: Egypt is trying to defuse a rapidly escalating crisis over the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants but has so far little to show for its efforts despite the involvement of President Hosni Mubarak. President Hosni Mubarak is in overall command and the head of the intelligence service, Omar Suleiman, is at the controls, said a senior foreign diplomat who asked not to be named. Mubarak himself has said he is personally undertaking all possible efforts, working until late at night, to prevent a veritable catastrophe for the whole region. Mubarak called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Sunday to discuss Egyptian moves to resolve the standoff by diplomatic means, the Egyptian news agency MENA reported. But a spokesman for Abbas, Nabil Abu Rudeina, warned Sunday that the mediation efforts to free Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit had yielded no results and were near an impasse. Three armed Palestinian groups, including the armed wing of the governing party Hamas, captured Shalit in a raid on the Israel-Gaza border June 25 and have demanded the release of 1,000 Palestinian, Arab and Muslim prisoners held by Israel. But they have not explicitly said they would free Shalit in exchange. An official with Abbas Fatah movement said Egypt had proposed that Shalit be released in exchange for an Israeli commitment, guaranteed by Egypt, to free Palestinian women and children held by Israel by the end of the year. But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday again ruled out any prisoner exchange. These are not easy days for the state of Israel but we have no intention of capitulating to blackmail, he said. Everyone knows that capitulating to terrorism today means inviting the next act of terrorism. The key player on the ground for Egypt is Suleiman, a 70-year-old general and intelligence chief who is often given charge of some of the country s most sensitive diplomatic assignments. It was Suleiman who arranged truces among Palestinian factions, including Hamas, in the spring of 2005 as well as the transition to an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in September last year. Suleiman is at the heart of everything, that s for sure, said Emad Gad, a Middle East specialist at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. As one of only two Arab states, the other being Jordan, to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, Egypt has long seen itself as a protective older brother for the Palestinians, ready with advice or to act as an arbiter. But a diplomat with long experience in the Middle East noted that Egypt is navigating by sight and we cannot underestimate the adverse influence of Syria, home to Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, and of Iran. He said Egypt, a major beneficiary of U.S. aid, wants to appear in the eyes of the United States as the only reasonable partner in the region. For Egypt, where public opinion is deeply hostile to Israel, the crisis could have domestic reverberations in the event of a major Israeli ground offensive in Gaza or a massive influx into Egypt of Gaza Palestinians. Egyptian authorities have beefed up security along the border with Gaza, sending 2,500 police officers to support 750 soldiers deployed there.

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