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Egypt Urges Israel to Restrain Sharon on Building of Settlements

Israeli officials are furious over a statement by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry urging them to “restrain” Housing Minister Ariel Sharon because his plans for a “bridge” of settlements between Jerusalem and the West Bank are “a danger to peace.”

The statement was made in Cairo a day after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met with Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat. It was their first meeting since the Persian Gulf War, which found them on opposite sides.

Yossi Ahimeir, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, expressed regret over the Egyptian statement Thursday. He pointed out that Sharon is implementing the government’s policy and that anyone attacking him is attacking the government.

The Egyptian statement said, “We are of the opinion that the government of Israel should restrain Minister Sharon and his close circles,” because he is acting deliberately against the peace process and contrary to U.N. Security Council Resolution 242.

The statement was seen as an Egyptian effort to please a PLO delegation visiting Cairo, headed by Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas met Thursday with the Egyptian foreign minister, Amr Moussa, to discuss the peace process.

Egypt appears to be trying to bring the PLO into the process, which is unacceptable to Israel. The PLO, meanwhile, is demanding U.S. guarantees that Israel will end settlement-building before the peace talks begin and that Israel will be required to withdraw from the territories.

Israel refuses to attend a conference in which the PLO is in any way involved.

Responding to the Egyptian complaint, Ahimeir stressed that the settlement issue is not on the agenda at the present stage of negotiations. He said that for the time being, both Israel and the United States are trying to resolve procedural questions.

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