July 7, 2009 - 12:00am

Cairo, July 7 - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said on Tuesday he believed an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian militants three years ago was well and that he hoped the issue would not take a long time to resolve.

Militants of the Hamas Islamist group and other gunmen launched a raid into Israel in June 2006 from the Gaza Strip, killing two soldiers and capturing Gilad Shalit. Egypt has sought to mediate a deal for his freedom between Hamas and Israel.

”I believe there were contacts (with Shalit) and that soldier Shalit is fine,” Mr Mubarak told a joint news conference with visiting Israeli President Shimon Peres in Cairo.

”I hope that in the coming period, maybe, not in the long term, the issue of soldier Shalit will end,” he added.

Egypt has been trying to patch up differences between rival Palestinian factions including Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement and has also sought to broker a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas.

Israeli officials denied reports last month that a deal was close with Hamas for the release of Shalit in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. Those reports had suggested Shalit was about to be sent to Egypt.

Although Cairo has hosted talks between Palestinian factions for about a year, there has been no obvious progress.

Palestinian officials said in June that Egypt had given the factions until July 28 to agree to resolve divisions.

Mr Mubarak said US President Barack Obama’s new approach in the Middle East offered the chance for a peace settlement giving Palestinians a state and ending occupation. In return, Israel would get recognition and security.

But Egypt has described as flawed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vision for setting up a demilitarised Palestinian state provided tough conditions were met.

”The solution is the two-state solution, the Palestinian people on one hand and the Israeli people on the other. Israel will be a Jewish state and Palestine an Arab state,” said Mr Peres, a politician known for more dovish views than Mr Netanyahu.

”This is the hour to move forward and to make tremendous efforts to achieve peace ... We must end the hate and challenge it,” Mr Peres said in comments translated from Hebrew to Arabic.

Egypt, in 1979, became the first Arab state to sign a peace deal with Israel after Mr Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat, said in 1977 that he was ready to travel to the ends of the earth ”even to Israel” for the sake of peace, a trip he then made.

Mr Mubarak, who has sought to put Egypt at the centre of regional peacemaking since becoming president in 1981, has only visited Israel once for the 1995 funeral of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Asked why he did not make state visits to Israel, Mr Mubarak replied: ”Let’s discuss peace, not whether I’ll visit Israel or not. The visits are ongoing between us and they don’t stop, from officials.

”Let’s be practical in our questions, and even in our talk about peace. If the visit would end all problems and we’d live in peace, why, I wouldn’t delay,” Mr Mubarak added.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has stirred controversy by saying Mr Mubarak could ”go to hell” if he did not visit more often.


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