Obama presses Mideast peace push



SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Ines Bel Aiba- US President Barack Obama pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday on the urgent need for new talks with the Palestinians after the Jewish state's leader met his lead Arab diplomatic partner, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Obama and the Israeli premier spoke by telephone for some 20 minutes on the importance of "substantive" US-brokered proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and on the need for direct contacts to start soon, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.



US President Barack Obama arrives on the South Lawn of the White House, upon his return to Washington, DC, after a one-day trip to Louisiana.
US President Barack Obama arrives on the South Lawn of the White House, upon his return to Washington, DC, after a one-day trip to Louisiana.
A Netanyahu aide confirmed the conversation and told AFP that the two men had discussed the "resumption of the peace process and the proximity talks which should start very quickly."
The Israeli premier's talks with regional broker Mubarak in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh "focused on the renewal of the peace process," the premier's office said.
The closed-door talks took place "in a positive and constructive atmosphere," the Israeli leader's office said in a statement issued after the almost 90-minute encounter.
The leaders, who made no comments to reporters at the resort, "reviewed Egyptian and international efforts to prepare the ground for the indirect talks ... aimed at a two-state solution," Egypt's official MENA news agency said.
Their talks were focused on the launch -- expected within days -- of indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, a process suspended since the Gaza war of December 2008-January 2009.
The Egyptian state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram reported on Monday that Mubarak would tell Netanyahu his government should stop issuing threats against Syria and Lebanon.
Israel has accused Syria of providing Scud missiles to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a charge Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said was meant to justify a new offensive against his country like that of 2006.
Netanyahu's visit came two days after the Arab League voiced its support for the so-called "proximity talks."
Netanyahu's office said he met Egypt's intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit.
The indirect talks -- the result of several months of US diplomacy -- were set to start in March but were scuttled after Israel announced it would build 1,600 new homes in a settlement in annexed Arab east Jerusalem.
The Arab League on Saturday gave its green light for the talks to go ahead after the Palestinians received US assurances that the construction would be shelved, an official of the 22-member pan-Arab organisation said.
An Israeli official said ahead of the summit that Netanyahu, who insists on unconditional direct talks with the Palestinians, was to ask Mubarak to pressure Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to "go forward."
Mubarak has supported the Palestinian demand for a complete settlement freeze in occupied Palestinian territories, including east Jerusalem, before direct talks can resume.
Israel has offered a limited halt to settlement construction in the West Bank but it does not include east Jerusalem, occupied and annexed in 1967 in a move not recognised by the international community.
The Palestinians want the West Bank and Gaza for a future state, with east Jerusalem as its capital.
The Netanyahu-Mubarak meeting comes ahead of another visit by US envoy George Mitchell to the region.
He is expected to meet Abbas on Friday and the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organisation is expected to endorse the indirect negotiations proposal the following day.
The developments raise hopes of a resumption of Middle East peace talks that were suspended in December 2008 when Israel launched a devastating offensive against the Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire by militants.
According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Netanyahu was to raise with Mubarak issues he considers crucial to Israel's security in the event of a peace deal, such as a demilitarised Palestinian state and control of borders and air space.
It was Netanyahu's first visit to Egypt since December.
The two countries maintain a cold diplomatic relationship although Egypt, which in 1979 became the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel, has often acted as broker in Israeli-Palestinian talks.
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Monday, May 3rd 2010
Ines Bel Aiba
           


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