SHARM EL-SHEIKH: Israel promised Egypt on Sunday it would give negotiations with the Palestinians a chance but in the end it reserved the right to find other ways to end conflict with its neighbors. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, on his first visit to Egypt since taking office, also apologized for the Israeli troops who shot dead two Egyptian policemen last Friday. Israel and Egypt agreed to a joint committee to investigate the border incident, which was condemned in the upper house of the Egyptian parliament on Sunday, and to prevent a recurrence. Olmert met President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm El-Sheikh after Egyptian officials said they would argue against unilateral steps by Israel and in favor of detailed peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert told a joint news conference with Mubarak that Israel was committed to the international road map peace plan through talks with Abbas, whom he is expected to meet for the first time as prime minister late this month. My aim is to exhaust all means to further this channel… I hope that our Palestinian partners will take advantage of this opportunity and will implement all their obligations so that we can advance according to the road map, Olmert said. If this does not happen, or when we come to the conclusion that it is not happening, we will have no other option than to look for other ways to move the situation in the Middle East forward and not to allow stagnation to take hold, he added. We hope the Palestinian Authority will carry out the demands of … the international community and if it does not do that we will look for other ways, he added.
I am asking our Palestinian brothers, Fatah and Hamas, to solve their problems, so that they will be able reach an agreement, the Egyptian leader said. If the struggle continues, they will not be able to focus on the peace process. The road map includes demands that the Palestinian Authority disarm guerrilla groups and that Israel suspend all settlement activity in the occupied West Bank. Neither side has met its obligations and Abbas Fatah movement, after losing elections to Hamas in January, is not in a position to disarm the Islamist group. Olmert campaigned in Israeli elections on a controversial plan to withdraw from parts of the West Bank while annexing other parts which Israel has already settled with Jews. The plan would amount to a unilateral redrawing of the border between Israel and a possible Palestinian state regardless of the views of the Palestinian inhabitants. But both in the United States last month and in Egypt on Sunday, Olmert left open the possibility of a redeployment of Israeli forces in the West Bank through negotiation. President Mubarak says it s best to have negotiations to reach a peace settlement, and we agree with that, he said. Abbas has lost much of his influence to a cabinet led by Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel or accept old agreements signed with Israel. On the border shooting on Friday, Olmert said: In the name of the State of Israel I wish to express my deep sorrow. The joint committee would investigate the incident and the two governments have told their security force to cooperate to prevent such killings from happening again, he added. Egyptian Minister Moufid Shehab told parliament in Cairo earlier that the committee would try to find out whether the two policemen really crossed into Israel, as the Israelis said. Israel has said its troops reacted in self-defense after the Egyptian policemen stormed across the border firing at them, but Egypt said they wandered across the frontier by accident. The state news agency MENA said on Saturday that initial investigations indicated that the men were shot on Egyptian territory and the Israelis then dragged them across the border. Shehab, who is responsible for parliamentary affairs, indicated the government was sensitive to the effect on public opinion when Olmert and Mubarak were meeting. The government cannot let this incident pass easily … All legal measures will be taken against those who made mistakes to ensure the incident does not recur, he said.