Egyptian FM: We Are Sure Shalit Is Alive

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit visited Israel yesterday and met with several high-ranking figures. The visit was a move toward warmer relations between Israel and Egypt before Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak next week.

In talks with Olmert yesterday, Aboul Gheit praised Israel's policy of restraint in the Gaza Strip, saying it "supports moderates in the Palestinian Authority."

Olmert spoke about the difficulties caused by rocket fire during the cease-fire, and about the need to stop weapons smuggling from Sinai into the Gaza Strip.

Aboul Gheit declared yesterday the Egyptian efforts to free abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit were ongoing and that Shalit was alive. "We are sure he is alive," Aboul Gheit said at a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Aboul Gheit declined to detail the progress in the talks, which he called sensitive.

In his talks with Livni, she demanded that Egypt take custody of Sudanese refugees who have infiltrated Israel through Sinai, but Egypt will only discuss the fate of 88 Sudanese who received refugee status in Cairo.

Aboul Gheit said Olmert's visit to Egypt next week could improve the atmosphere and jumpstart the peace process.

Aboul Gheit yesterday met several Israeli politicians including Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Likud party chair Benjamin Netanyahu and MK Silvan Shalom. He also met with Labor's Ami Ayalon, and asked if he planned to run for party leadership.

Aboul Gheit said he did not discuss relations with Syria yesterday.

It was decided yesterday that Israel and Egypt would mark the 30th anniversary of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's arrival in Israel together next year. The sides also planned a meeting of agriculture ministers. It was also decided to create a mechanism to handle disasters in Sinai.