Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Rome, May 19, 2010
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Rome, May 19, 2010 Photo by AP
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Israel rejected a Qatari proposal by the Persian Gulf emirate to carry out rehabilitation work in the Gaza Strip in exchange for renewing diplomatic relations with Israel after Egypt made it clear that it would find such a deal "difficult to digest".

According to Egyptian sources, Israel provided Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak with an outline of Qatar's proposal, which would allow it to bring construction materials and other goods into the Strip.

The Qataris would have undertaken reconstruction of infrastructure and earned an Israeli declaration recognizing Qatar's important status in the Middle East. In exchange, the Israeli diplomatic mission the Qataris closed during Operation Cast Lead would reopen.

Israel's rejection of the plan, it seems, resulted largely from Egyptian opposition.

An Egyptian source said his country was acting in coordination with Israel and the Quartet (the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia ). The source added: "Egypt has barred free passage of goods across its border into Gaza, despite criticism from other Arab countries and from the Egyptian public, and it would be inappropriate for Israel, in an effort to serve its own interests "to harm these agreements and put Egypt in an impossible position of being the only party blocking the passage of goods into Gaza."

Relations between Qatar and Egypt are tense, in part because of the sharp criticism voiced on Al Jazeera of Egypt and its Gaza policy. The TV station is owned by the emirate's ruling family. Qatar has been pursing its own independent foreign policy. It is seen in Egypt as an Iranian ally acting contrary to Arab interests. It is also, however, an American ally.

Assad: Israel sought direct negotiations

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad has disclosed that President Shimon Peres sent him a proposal via Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for direct negotiations on condition the Syrians break their ties with Iran and rejectionist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Assad said Israel would not commit to withdrawing from the Golan Heights.

Assad, in a meeting with Arab intellectuals in Damascus, said the proposal showed Israel was not interested in peace. He was quoted as saying Syria would not give up its claim to the "smallest portion" of the Golan Heights. Assad also told his audience that Syra had no intention of cutting ties with Iran. He condemned those who "have decided to eliminate the option of armed opposition and have become prisoner to the option of peace when they should be ready for both options [at the same time]."

Commentators see his remarks as being directed primarily at the Palestinian Authority but also hinting at the peace treaties Egypt and Jordan signed with Israel. Assad was quoted as saying opposition is designed "to achieve an honorable peace and not war for war's sake."

The Syrian president condemned pressure on Hamas, apparently from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which, he said, was designed to push the organization to adopt positions contrary to its own wishes.

As for Syria's role should Israel attack Lebanon, Assad commented with ridicule that "we have to worry when Israel is silent and not when it makes threats." Assad met yesterday with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in advance of the Lebanese leader's upcoming trip to Washington. According to Lebanese sources, Assad is convinced the United States will post an ambassador to Damascus shortly.