image Photo: Shlomi Amsalem (MFA)

Israel, Egypt hold critical talks

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid made a lighting one-day trip to Cairo to hold diplomatic talks with senior Egyptian leaders.

By Erin Viner

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi greeted Minister Lapid at the Al-Ittihadiya Palace for “long and warm meeting” after Israel’s top diplomat was welcomed in a official reception at the airport yesterday.

During their meeting, Lapid, who is Alternate Israeli Premier, discussed a number of key bilateral issues, according to a statement TV7 obtained from the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

Threats posed by Iran to the Middle East by its pursuit of nuclear weapons and continued use of terrorism topped the agenda.

Other topics included the situation in the Gaza Strip, including the Israeli MIAs and missing civilians held captive by the Islamist Hamas rulers of the Palestinian territory.

Minister Lapid also presented President Sisi with his “Economy for Security” plan for Gaza and addressed measures by the Israeli government to strengthen the Palestinian Authority with solutions to economic challenges in the West Bank.

Additionally, Israel’s top diplomat expressed appreciation for the important and central role Cairo performs in confronting terrorism and instability in the area.

Cairo has played a prominent role brokering and trying to reinforce the ceasefire in Gaza after the 11-day Operation Guardian of the Walls conflict in May between Israel and Palestinian terror factions in the enclave, including its Islamist Hamas rulers.

The leaders also discussed strategies to deepen the peace between the two nations, which signed a peace treaty in 1979, in the economy, energy, agricultural and trade sectors.

“Egypt is an especially important strategic partner for Israel. My goal is to strengthen our security, diplomatic, and economic relations with Egypt,” said Minister Lapid at the end of the meeting, underscoring that, “It’s important to continue to work on the peace between our two nations. I thank President El-Sisi, whose contribution to the region and the relations between us is of historic proportions, for his hospitality and for a warm and open meeting. I look forward to continuing the dialogue between us.”

Lapid later held an extended subsequent meeting at the Tahrir Palace in Cairo with his Egyptian counterpart, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry.

The two discussed bilateral cooperation in the “diplomatic-security” and the “economic-civilian realms,” said the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

In a goodwill gesture on behalf of the State of Israel, Minister Lapid also returned 95 archeological artifacts stolen from Egypt confiscated after being illegally smuggled into the Jewish State.

Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) Director Eli Eskozido, who was part of Lapid’s delegation, presented Cairo’s top diplomat with the relics, which included ancient figurines of Egyptian goddesses, ceremonial statues placed within tombs as burial offerings, and hieroglyphic inscriptions on stone, papyrus and a fragment of a wooden sarcophagus.

This is the second time Jerusalem has returned rare artifacts to Cairo.  Israel also handed over two sarcophagus covers that had been looted during the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.

The visit marked Lapid’s first such trip since taking office.

It follows the September meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met Egyptian President Sisi at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, marking the first official talks between the countries’ heads of state in a decade.