CAIRO: Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s visit to Sharm El-Sheikh Wednesday to discuss border security with Egyptian officials ended with him trying to quell a series of Egyptian accusations of undermining Annapolis, creating a smokescreen to build more settlements and harming Egypt’s relationship with the US.
Initially Barak was making the visit to discuss border security, following statements by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that Egypt was harming the stability of the region by not preventing arms from reaching Gaza, adding that their efforts were “terrible.
However, despite a slurry of accusations against Israeli actions from the Egyptians immediately preceding and following his visit, Barak was in a more conciliatory mood after he held meetings with President Mubarak, Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman and Minister of Defense Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.
Presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad told reporters after Barak’s meeting with Mubarak that Israel’s accusations were a “a smokescreen to shift attention from settlement construction and the follow-up on Annapolis.
New housing units planned to be built for Jewish settlers in Jerusalem only served to “undermine the only achievement of the Annapolis meeting – that is the launch of negotiations, he added.
Also on Wednesday, prior to Barak’s arrival, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told journalists that the Israeli lobby in the US was harming Egyptian interests and its relationship with the US.
“The latest months have seen the Israeli lobby s efforts to harm Egypt s interests with the Congress. The Israeli lobby inside the Congress was behind some positions adopted by Congress and the Israeli media campaign in the last few months falls within this trend, he said.
Awad later reiterated these comments to AFP saying, “Egypt rejects and denounces the Israeli government s interference in the US Congress decision to suspend $100 million in military aid to Egypt.
Congress froze that amount of aid to Egypt until US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice could ascertain whether Egypt was doing enough to stem the flow of weapons and money into the Gaza strip.
Barak’s statements after the meetings aimed to reduce the tension somewhat, as he told reporters that “whenever we have points of dispute we will discuss them through face-to-face dialogue in good faith, adding that his visit had given him “better ways of understanding to work out any difficulties.
Barak also told Reuters before the meetings that “peace with Egypt is a strategic asset for both sides … and, as in the past when there are disputes, they have to be worked out.
Egypt says that it needs more troops to guard the border, as the number of troops on the border with Israel is severely reduced – subject to a ceasefire agreement between the two sides.