Egypt says Israeli Prime Minister is visiting, talks

CAIRO (AP) – Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has traveled to Egypt on Monday for talks with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on the Red Sea in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt’s presidential office said.

There was no temporary confirmation of the meeting from the Israeli government.

This is the first visit of the Israeli Prime Minister since 2010, when President Hosni Mubarak held a meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Less than a year later, Egypt was rocked by a notorious coup that toppled Mubarak.

Bennett and the President of Egypt are expected to discuss the two friendships, efforts to restore peace and other regional and international events, El-Sissi’s office said.

For nearly a decade, Israeli officials held secret meetings with their Arab counterparts, some of whom were later announced. Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab country to enter into a peace treaty with Israel.

The meeting will be a source of encouragement to Bennett, Israel’s new Prime Minister, who took office in June and is still working to establish his foreign credentials. His successor, Netanyahu, claimed to be an international ambassador but was unable to hold a public meeting with the President of Egypt.

Events taking place on the Gaza Strip are set to be discussed at Monday’s meeting.

Israel, with the help of Egypt, has maintained a stronghold of Gaza since the Palestinian militant group Hamas defeated the region in 2007 to prevent it from seizing arms. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars, most recently in May, and Egypt is often the mediator between the two enemies. In the last battle, it ended the suspension that makes the war stop.

Egypt has been trying to provoke a long-running war between Israel and Hamas, but the tests appear to have been difficult in recent weeks. Hamas has called for the lifting of the blockade, which has disrupted Gaza’s economy. Israel wants Hamas to release two exiled Israeli nationals and return the remnants of two soldiers killed in the 2014 war.

As conditions deteriorate in Gaza, Hamas has grown significantly. In recent weeks, they have staged a series of violent protests across Israel’s borders and fired several balloons at the border, setting fires in southern Israel.

Israel has praised the el-Sissi government for its support over the years, and given Egypt a greater right to cross the border to fight Islamist militants in the Sinai region.

The Egyptian government, however, often runs cautiously with its citizens, which strongly contradicts Israeli ideology in the fight against the Palestinians. While Egyptian and Israeli authorities quietly work for security, they often do not criticize Israel in public – even though the government gives freedom to well-known allies who criticize Israel or portray it as an enemy in the press.

Earlier this month, El-Sissi held talks with King Abdullah II of Jordan and Abbas in Cairo in which he stressed the need to revive the two countries’ response to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The three leaders said the Palestinians had the right to a sovereign state, with East Jerusalem as their capital, a plan that Israel strongly opposed.

Recently, as tensions intensified in the Gaza Strip, the escape of six Palestinian prisoners from Israel’s most secure prison brought praise from many Egyptians.

Over the weekend, Israel captured four of the refugees. In response, Palestinian forces in Gaza set up several rockets in Israel, prompting the withdrawal of Israeli warplanes.

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