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Netanyahu, Mubarak disagree on Har Homa, release of Israeli

JERUSALEM, March 5 (JTA) — Despite their differences, the two leaders said they would seek a continuation of the peace process. During a one-hour meeting Wednesday in Cairo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, however, failed to reach agreement on two issues: Israel’s plans to build a new Jewish neighborhood in southeastern Jerusalem and Egypt’s refusal to release an Israeli accused of spying. In comments to reporters after their session, the two downplayed their disagreements. Netanyahu said the Egyptians were making efforts to prevent a violent Palestinian reaction to Israeli construction plans at Har Homa. “There are still differences of opinion,” Netanyahu told Israeli reporters who accompanied him on the daylong trip to Egypt. “But what has become clear since we took the [Har Homa] decision is that Egypt is clearly taking a position against any kind of violent response. It is also taking certain steps to ensure that the peace process will continue.” Mubarak said before Netanyahu’s arrival that he was concerned that construction at Har Homa would damage prospects for the Israeli- Palestinian final-status talks. He reiterated this view during a joint news conference with the Israeli leader. “I’m not going to tell you that I was convinced” by Netanyahu, Mubarak told reporters. “I’m afraid this will create problems in the future.” The Egyptian leader said he would discuss Har Homa with Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, due in Cairo later this week on his way back from a trip to the United States, where he tried to drum up support against the Israeli project. “We are not thinking of taking measures” against Israel, Mubarak said. “Our measures are to push the peace process forward on a fair basis to be a lasting peace.” Along with the Har Homa controversy, Netanyahu and Mubarak discussed Egypt’s detention of an Israeli citizen on charges of spying for Israel. Mubarak said he could not do anything to secure the release of Azam Azam, a Druse who worked in a textile factory in Cairo before Egyptian authorities accused him in December of spying. “This case is before the court. We have no authority to exclude it from the court until it comes to an end,” Mubarak said. The Egyptian judiciary announced this week that Azam’s trial would begin April 24. Israel has denied all allegations that Azam spied for the Jewish state.