Netanyahu to Cairo as US pushes Mideast peace

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CAIRO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due in Cairo on Tuesday as Washington is drafting documents to serve as a basis for resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Netanyahu will hold talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and other senior officials, Egyptian sources said.

Egypt s foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Sunday that the talks in Cairo would focus on ways to advance peace efforts.

We will listen to his points of view and we will inform him that a fair settlement must be reached on the Palestinian refugee problem and east Jerusalem, he said, referring to two key issues in the peace talks.

We are also preparing for a visit I will make to Washington (in January), and in the context of these talks (Egypt) must listen to the positions of the Israelis and the Palestinians, he told reporters.

Egypt s latest moves come as US President Barack Obama s administration was said to be drafting letters of guarantee for Israel and the Palestinians to serve as a basis for the relaunch of peace talks which have been stalled for almost a year.

US special envoy George Mitchell will present two draft letters of guarantee, one for Israel and one to the Palestinian Authority during his next visit to the region, one Arab diplomat in Cairo told AFP.

The United States are hoping that the two letters will serve as a basis for the relaunch of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations but we don t know if they will satisfy the Palestinians, who want a complete freeze of settlement activity before talks resume, the diplomat said.

The United States is currently in talks with the Palestinians and Egypt – a key US ally in the region – over the letters, a Western diplomat said.

Egypt had already asked for written US guarantees before peace negotiations could resume, in order to ensure that their aim is the establishment of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders.

The beginning of negotiations must come either with a complete freeze of settlement activity, which we continue to demand, or if we receive unequivocal guarantees that a Palestinian state will be established along the borders of 1967 including Jerusalem, Aboul Gheit said in November.

Netanyahu last month announced a 10-month moratorium on new housing projects in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank in a move he said was aimed at helping kick-start the peace talks suspended during the Gaza war at the turn of the year.

The moratorium does not include public buildings or construction under way and does not apply to occupied and annexed east Jerusalem, which Israelis consider part of their capital.

The Palestinians have rejected the moratorium, saying it fell far short of their demand for a complete halt of settlement activity in the whole West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, which they want as the capital of their promised state.

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