Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman will visit Israel this week and meet Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an official said Sunday, despite Cairo’s unease with the far-right politician.
"General Suleiman will meet minister Lieberman during his visit in the coming days,"Danny Ayalon, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, told the Israeli army radio.
Egypt has an uneasy relationship with Lieberman, a firebrand nationalist who has said President Hosni Mubarak can "go to hell" if he continued to refuse to visit the Jewish state.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said earlier this month that he would not shake Lieberman’s hand and that the Israeli foreign minister was not welcomed in Egypt so long as attitude remained unchanged.
"He is a man who ought to reconsider how his brain communicates with his tongue," said Abul Gheit, according to a transcript of an interview with Egyptian television published by the official MENA news agency.
"As long as Lieberman’s position stays the same I will, should I encounter him at a meeting, merely look at him," Abul Gheit said. "Of course, my hand will remain in my pocket."
Palestinian officials criticized the Egyptian intelligence chief’s readiness to meet with Lieberman, saying that it would undermine efforts to isolate the new minister.
"The meeting between Omar Suleiman and Foreign Minister Lieberman is unnecessary redundant, and harms efforts to shun Lieberman on a national and international level," one Palestinian official was quoted by Ynet news as saying.
He said the meeting would be "a reward for Lieberman while he should be condemned and punished, not rewarded," adding that Palestinians hope the meeting would be cancelled. "We need to continue to work towards isolating Lieberman for his beliefs and opinions," he explained.
Meanwhile, Israel has gone out of its way to downplay any tension over the new foreign minister with its most important Arab ally.
"There is no rupture with Egypt with the arrival of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman," Ayalon said. "On the contrary, the bases for work relations have been set with the Egyptian officials, as Omar Suleiman’s visit proves."
Lieberman also suggested bombing Egypt’s Aswan dam in the event of war between the two countries, which signed a landmark peace deal in 1979.
There was no immediate confirmation on Suleiman’s visit by Egypt.
(Alarabiya.net and AFP)