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Last Updated: Monday, 16 June, 2003, 17:51 GMT 18:51 UK
Egypt: Bridging the Mid-East gap

By Alexandra Fouché
BBC News Online

Egypt is again trying to help deliver peace between Israelis and Palestinians by holding talks with Palestinian militant groups.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (left) and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
Egypt's similar call last year was rejected by militants

A delegation of Egyptian security officials is in Gaza to talk to Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, about a ceasefire - a key element of the so-called US roadmap to peace.

Last year, the Egyptians called for a one-year moratorium on violence between the two sides at a conference of Palestinian groups, but the proposal was never implemented.

Nonetheless, Egypt remains a key player in the Mid-East peace game as an Arab country which has kept the peace with Israel, but also commands US support.

It is the second largest recipient of US aid after Israel, and has remained on peaceful terms with its neighbour since Israel returned the Sinai in the 1970s following the signing of a peace accord in Camp David.

Egypt is doing its best to reach an agreement. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail, but the price is loss of human life
Abdel Monem Said Aly
Director of the al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies

"We welcome Egypt's efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Egypt is still a leader of the Arab world and its support is very important," an Israeli Government source told BBC News Online.

But Egypt is facing serious difficulties in its peace efforts, trying to solve problems from the bottom up and trying to deal with the violence, says Abdel Monem Said Aly, director of the al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

"The two sides are not exhausted yet; there is still a big reservoir of anger and hate on both sides, so the basis for having peace is not there yet," he told BBC News Online.

Both sides are still putting lots of conditions to peace which puts Egypt in a difficult situation, he says.

Egypt has to try to cool down its public opinion, which ultimately supports the government's efforts for an equitable ceasefire, he says.

If their efforts lead to a ceasefire then it will be welcome, but it will only succeed when there is a cessation of violence, he says.

"Egypt is doing its best to reach an agreement. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail, but the price is loss of human life."

Two languages

Israel accuses the Egyptian Government of being ambiguous.

"The Egyptians like most Arabs speak in two languages - one to the inside and the other to the outside. So they are working in several directions," the Israeli Government source said.

EGYPT-ISRAEL PEACE
Nov 1977: President Sadat flies to Israel and recognises Jewish state
Sept 1978: Israel agrees pullout from occupied Sinai (Camp David accords)
Mar 1979: Full peace treaty signed
1982: Egypt's envoy recalled
Nov 1995: President Mubarak's first trip to Israel for Yitzhak Rabin's funeral

On the one hand, stability is a keyword for Egypt and they want to prevent terrorist acts from happening so they get involved in the peace process, the source said.

But on the other hand they let the Egyptian public go out and stage anti-Israeli demonstrations as a way to vent their anger at what is happening to the Palestinians and their anger at the regime and living conditions in Egypt, it said.

If the peace process does not succeed, however, then violence will continue for another year, year and a half, says Abdel Monem Said Aly.

"Egypt has long been part of the peace process, since the Camp David accords; it is part and parcel of the process," he says.




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