Egyptian intelligence chief meets Lieberman despite spat

Egyptian intelligence chief meets Lieberman despite spat Jerusalem  - Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman met with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman late Wednesday despite threats by Cairo that it would boycott the ultra-nationalist politician who had insulted President Hozny Mubarak.

Suleiman arrived in Israel on the first visit by a senior Egyptian official since the new Israeli government of hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office following February 10 elections.

Lieberman's office issued a statement calling the meeting with Suleiman "important and constructive," insisting it was held in a "friendly atmosphere."

Lieberman "expressed his respect and appreciation for Egypt's leading role in the region and his personal respect" for both Mubarak and Suleiman.

"Israel and Egypt will continue their vital cooperation to ensure stability, security and peace in the Middle East," the statement said.

Egypt had said it would avoid the new Israeli foreign minister, of the ultra-nationalist Israel Beiteinu coalition party, unless he apologized for past remarks, including one made at an October parliament session in Jerusalem, in which he said Mubarak should either agree to visit Israel or "go to hell."

Cairo had also warned Lieberman would not be invited to visit.

Suleiman also met separately Wednesday with Netanyahu, of the ruling Likud, and with Defence Minister Ehud Barak, of the left-to- centre Labour Party, both of whom were invited to Cairo and who accepted the invitation.

A statement from Netanyahu's office said the sides were studying the possibility of the visit taking place in the coming weeks.

It said Netanyahu and Suleiman, in their nearly two-hour meeting, discussed the issue of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive in Gaza since June 2005. Ofer Dekel, the Israeli official who via Egypt indirectly negotiated a prisoners' exchange with the radical Islamist Hamas movement that would see Shalit's release, offered his resignation late Tuesday.

The previous government of Ehud Olmert had made a last ditch effort to secure such a prisoners' exchange, as well as a new truce in Gaza, in the Egyptian-mediated negotiations with Hamas, but failed.

The negotiations are now frozen, and the Netanyahu government has stated in its coalition agreement with Lieberman that it will work to topple the de-facto Hamas government in Gaza.

Netanyahu has yet to appoint a new negotiator on the Shalit issue, regarded as key to any truce, and the lifting of a tight Israeli economic blockade of Gaza. Israeli Shin Bet internal security head Yuval Diskin is temporarily taking Dekel's place, a statement from his office said. (dpa)

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