CAIRO: An Israeli official denied that President Hosni Mubarak and Israeli Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Eliezer met yesterday to discuss the fate of a soldier captured by Palestinian forces four months ago.
This conflicts reports from the Egyptian state media agency MENA yesterday that Eliezer had arrived in Cairo Wednesday night to restart “efforts set in motion by Egypt for the release of soldier Gilad Shalit and a number of Palestinian prisoners.
“He’s here to have economic meetings, said the Israeli official in a telephone interview with The Daily Star Egypt.
He added that the talks will center on the sale and delivery of Egyptian gas to Israel, and that the meeting with Mubarak was scheduled at the last minute as a “courtesy.
“We were not sure until [Wednesday] night, said the official, who declined to be named.
When asked specifically if Eliezer and Mubarak were slated to discuss the release of the captured solider, the official said, “I don’t have any clue of what they’re going to discuss. The visit was not billed about that.
Shalit was captured on June 25 during an attack in the southern Gaza strip. Three groups, including the armed wing of the governing Hamas party, claimed the capture.
Hamas has demanded the release of 1,000 captured Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit’s freedom.
Meanwhile, Palestinian interior minister Said Siam yesterday blamed Israel for the current impasse.
“The deal to release [Shalit] has failed or has frozen because [Israel] wants the soldier released without giving anything in return, Siyam told London s Al-Hayat newspaper.
Egypt has taken a role as mediator between Israel and the Palestinian factions and has recently called on Hamas to make some compromises.
Starting in 2007, energy giant East Mediterranean Gas Ltd. will supply Israel with an estimated 1.7. billion cubic meters of liquid natural gas per year.
The deal will last for 15 years, said the official.