Jerusalem — Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Sunday that Egypt plays a pivotal role in revitalizing Middle East peace talks before meeting Egypt’s intelligence chief Omar Suleiman who arrived in Jerusalem earlier in the morning.
"Egypt is an important player in the region and is deeply involved in all aspects of the regional dialogue," said Barak ahead of a meeting with Egypt’s spy chief. He expressed hope that Suleiman’s meetings in Israel would help push forward the Palestinian peace process.
Suleiman was also to meet with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as the head of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign spy service, according to Israeli media.
Suleiman is Egypt’s pointman for indirect talks between Israel and the Hamas movement on a prisoner swap of some 1,000 jailed Palestinians for an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza militants in 2006.
The visit comes a day after Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit implicitly confirmed that his country was building an underground barrier with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in a new bid to prevent tunnel smuggling.
A network of tunnels beneath the Egypt-Gaza border provide a crucial economic lifeline to Gaza, which has been sealed off from all but vital humanitarian aid by Israel and Egypt since Hamas took over in June 2007.
The tunnels are mainly used for supplying food, fuel and electronic appliances to the beleaguered territory.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossam Zaki said on Saturday that Abul Gheit had discussed with top Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat "the possibilities of reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process."