Gaza lies between Israel and Egypt, and both countries have imposed a border blockade of the territory to varying degrees since 2007, when the Islamic militant group Hamas took control there.
The meeting between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and the Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett marked a warm-up in a relationship that had focused on security but somewhat cold under Bennett’s predecessor, Israeli hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu.
El-Sissi and Bennett met in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, according to an official statement from the Egyptian presidency. Egypt’s state television showed both leaders sitting next to each other in front of the two national flags, with the presence of the Israeli army chief of staff and the Egyptian foreign minister and the head of their intelligence service.
It was the first official visit by an Israeli prime minister since 2010, when the then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak organized a summit with Netanyahu, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and the US Secretary of State. Hillary clinton. Less than a year later, Egypt was rocked by a popular uprising that toppled Mubarak.
El-Sissi told state television that he and Bennett discussed maintaining the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, in addition to the Ethiopian dam on one of the tributaries of the Nile River, which Egypt sees as a threat to its supply of Water.
The Israeli prime minister, in a statement after the meeting, said he thanked el-Sissi for his country’s role in stabilizing Gaza and helping with Israelis missing and held captive in Israel’s conflict with Hamas.
For nearly a decade, Israeli officials have held covert meetings with their Arab counterparts, some of which were only announced after the fact. Egypt in 1979 was the first Arab country to reach a peace agreement with Israel, but only after the two countries fought four wars between 1948 and 1973.
The meeting is a boost for Bennett, who took office in June and is still trying to establish his foreign policy credentials. His predecessor, Netanyahu, promoted himself as a world statesman, but was never able to hold a public meeting with the Egyptian president.
Egypt has often served as a mediator between Hamas and Israel in the four wars they have fought, the most recent in May, when it negotiated a ceasefire that has largely stopped the fighting. Egypt has been trying to turn that into a long-term truce, but those efforts appear to have run into trouble in recent weeks. Hamas has demanded the lifting of the blockade, which has devastated the Gaza economy. Israel wants Hamas to release two captive Israeli civilians and return the remains of two soldiers killed in the 2014 war.
In recent weeks, in a sign of rising tensions, Hamas organized a series of violent demonstrations along the Israeli border and launched dozens of incendiary balloons across the border, setting off a series of wildfires in southern Israel. Israel.
Earlier this month, el-Sissi also held talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Abbas in Cairo, where they emphasized support for the elusive two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The three leaders said the Palestinians have the right to an independent state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, a plan that Israel strongly opposes.
But Israel has praised the el-Sissi government for its help over the years and, in turn, allowed Egyptian forces greater freedom near the border to fight Islamist insurgents on the Sinai Peninsula.
Egypt’s government generally follows a careful line with its own citizens, who are deeply opposed to Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. Since Egyptian and Israeli officials collaborate quietly on security matters, the Egyptian government is rarely very critical of Israel in public. However, the government unleashes prominent government-aligned personalities to denounce Israel or portray it as an enemy in the media.
More recently, the escape of six Palestinian prisoners from an Israeli maximum security prison drew praise from many Egyptians. Over the weekend, Israel captured four of the fugitives. In response, Palestinian militants in Gaza fired several rockets at Israel, prompting retaliatory Israeli airstrikes.
Saeed Okasha, a political analyst at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said the relationship between el-Sissi and Israel’s new leader remains unproven.
“ There are no hard feelings between Egypt and Bennett. Egypt is ready to hear a new Israeli voice, especially in light of regional tensions, ” he said.
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