Israel’s top diplomat in Egypt for talks on Gaza, Iran

CAIRO: Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Thursday during a rare visit to Egypt for talks on the blockaded Gaza Strip and Iran’s nuclear program, the two sides said.

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state in 1979, after decades of enmity and conflict.

“I thank President Sisi, whose contribution to the region and the relations between us is of historic proportions,” Lapid tweeted. “I presented the president my ‘economy for security program for Gaza and the steps taken by the Israeli government with regards to the Palestinian issue,” he added.

Egypt’s presidency also said the Pales­tinian issue was a key priority.

In his meeting with Sisi, Lapid noted “Iran’s attempts to become a country with a military nuclear capability as well as its continued use of terrorism, and the threat this poses to the Middle East”.

His visit comes a month to the day after both countries struck a security deal to boost Egyptian troop numbers around the border town of Rafah in the restive Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt’s Rafah crossing is the only passage to Gaza not controlled by Israel.

Militants in the Sinai have multiplied their attacks since the army’s 2013 ouster of then Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Operations have been conducted against Islamist militants across Egypt since February 2018. They have mainly focused on North Sinai and the country’s Western Desert. Around 1,073 suspected militants and dozens of security personnel have been killed in the operations, according to official figures.

In a 2019 interview on US television network CBS, Sisi acknowledged Egypt’s army was working closely with Israel in combating “terrorists” in North Sinai.

Security coordination has been at an all-time high between the regional heavyweights, with Cairo playing a key role in negotiating a ceasefire in May between Israel and Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas to end 11 days of fighting.