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Page last updated at 12:26 GMT, Tuesday, 7 July 2009 13:26 UK

Egypt reassures Israel on Shalit

Shimon Peres shakes hands with Hosni Mubarak
Mubarak was press by reporters why he does not visit Israel officially

Egypt's president has told his Israeli counterpart he believes a captured Israeli soldier in Gaza is in good health and hopes he will be freed soon.

Hosni Mubarak was hosting the largely ceremonial Israeli head of state Shimon Peres on a rare visit to Egypt.

Gilad Shalit was taken by Palestinian militants in a cross-border raid in 2006. His whereabouts are not known.

Egypt has been mediating a deal for his release in return for hundreds of Palestinians seized by Israeli forces.

"Communications are ongoing. Shalit is in good condition," Mr Mubarak said in answer to a journalist's question.

"I hope that in the coming period, not in a long time, the Shalit issue will be closed," he added.

On the visit, Mr Peres was scheduled to discuss efforts to free Sgt Shalit as well as moves towards a regional peace agreement.

Egypt was the first Arab state to sign a peace deal with Israel, in 1979, since when only Jordan has followed suit.

Asked why he had not made a state visit to Israel, Mr Mubarak said: "Let's discuss peace, not whether I'll visit Israel or not. If the visit would end all problems and we'd live in peace, why, I wouldn't delay."

Diplomatic manoeuvres

Correspondents say the visit is given greater significance because of the diplomatic stature of former prime minister Mr Peres and the virtual absence from diplomatic manoeuvres of outspoken Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Egypt has shunned him for saying Mr Mubarak could "go to hell" for not making an official visit to Israel.

On Monday, Mr Lieberman said he had taken a back seat in current US-led peace efforts because he lives in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank and therefore had a "conflict of interest" in discussions.

Israel has been in conflict with its chief diplomatic backer, the US, over the issue of settlement building in the West Bank, which is illegal under international law.

US envoy George Mitchell and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak discussed the settlement issue in their latest talks in London on Monday. A joint statement did not disclose any progress but said "constructive discussions" would continue in the near future.

Also on Monday, the European Union issued a blunt denunciation of Israeli settlements, saying they strangle the Palestinian economy and force dependence on aid handouts.

It listed the negative impact of settlements as: "The expropriation of fertile land; the settler-only roads which carve up occupied territory, and the checkpoints and roadblocks which exist solely to protect settlements."

On Tuesday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the EU ambassador to Israel was called in for an explanation, which is a form of diplomatic protest.



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