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PM Bennett on first Egypt visit by Israeli PM since 2011

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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for talks expected to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the first official trip by an Israeli leader to Egypt in a decade.

Bennett, the head of the far-right Yamina party who took office in June, was due to meet the Egyptian president on Monday in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula.

The discussions are expected to address “ways and efforts to revive the peace process” between Israel and Palestine, Egypt’s presidency said in a statement.

Bennett and el-Sisi were also expected to discuss regional issues, including Iran’s influence in the Middle East and the crisis in Lebanon, diplomats said.

There was no immediate confirmation of the meeting from the Israeli government.

Bennett’s predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, was the last Israeli prime minister to make an official visit to Egypt in 2011 during the presidency of the late Hosni Mubarak.

The meeting will be a boost for Bennett, who took office in June and is still trying to establish his foreign policy credentials. Netanyahu billed himself as a global statesman but was never able to hold a public meeting with el-Sisi.

The tense situation in the Gaza Strip is likely to be at the top of Monday’s agenda.

Israel, with Egypt’s help, has maintained a tight blockade over Gaza since the Palestinian group Hamas began governing the territory in 2007. There have been four wars or assaults on Gaza by Israel, most recently in May.

In 1979, Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel. Relations have been cool over the years, but Egypt has played a key role in mediating ceasefires between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza in various rounds of fighting.

Cairo’s mediation efforts in the 11-day assault on the Gaza Strip in May led to a ceasefire. The conflict killed more than 260 Palestinians as well as 13 people in Israel.

Increase in violence

An uptick in cross-border violence since late August has tested the fragile truce.

Cairo’s invitation to the Israeli prime minister was issued by Abbas Kamel, director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate, last month when he met with Bennett in occupied East Jerusalem.

Since el-Sisi was sworn in as president in early 2014 – months after he announced the overthrow of the country’s first elected President Mohamed Morsi – Israeli media has reported that Netanyahu secretly met with the Egyptian strongman several times.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in 2014 and there seems to be little prospect of reviving them. Bennett, a nationalist atop a cross-partisan coalition, opposes Palestinian statehood.



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