Amid rising tensions with Hezbollah, Egypt on Wednesday said Cairo would not deal with ultranationalist Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The statements come amid heightened security measures in Sinai, where the Egyptian police reportedly discovered almost a ton of explosives near the borders with Israel during their search for members of an alleged Hezbollah cell, which Egypt said had observed and planned terrorist attacks against Israeli tourists.
"We will work with any proposal by the Israeli government but not through the Israeli foreign minister," Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said in an interview with Russia Today television, excerpts of which were aired on Israel’s Channel 2.
Lieberman stirred controversy last year when he said Hosni Mubarak could "go to hell" if the Egyptian president did not want to visit Israel. He once suggested Egypt’s Aswan Dam might be bombed.
Outspoken Israeli FM
"Of course he will not visit Cairo as long as his positions remain unchanged," Abul Gheit said.
On his first day at the foreign ministry this month, Lieberman said the U.S.-sponsored Annapolis declaration of 2007 on peace with the Palestinians was no longer valid.
"A person has to think about the consequences of the signals he sends from his brain to his tongue during speech and there have been consequences for Egypt," Abul Gheit said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose right-leaning government took office late last month, will meet Mubarak in Egypt in the near future, his office said last week.
It remains unclear what the two leaders would discuss when they meet in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and whether Lieberman would attend the meeting.
Under Ehud Olmert, Netanyahu’s predecessor, Egypt tried to broker a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, where Israel carried out a massive onslaught, which lasted for over three weeks.
The indirect negotiations have shown little outward sign of progress. Israel wants Hamas to release an Israeli soldier captured by militants in a cross-border raid in 2006. Hamas wants Israel to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for soldier Gilad Shalit.
Explosives in Sinai
Earlier on Wednesday, Egyptian security forces found a hoard of almost a ton of explosives in Sinai near the border with Israel.
A security official said that nine-hundred kilograms of TNT were found packed in 17 bags, adding that three Palestinians and two Jordanians were arrested in the North Sinai town of Sheikh Zweid as part of the same operation.
The Palestinians appear to have entered Egypt illegally from neighboring Gaza and are being questioned, the official said.
The discovery of the explosives came amid heightened security measures in Sinai, where police have been searching for members of a cell, which Egypt says planned attacks in the country.
Egypt’s public prosecutor announced last week that a security investigation had found that a cell of 49 members had been planning "hostile operations" in Egypt at the behest of Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
Some 25 members of the cell have been arrested.
Hezbollah’s chief Hassan Nasrallah confirmed last Friday that one of the 25 men arrested was a Hezbollah agent tasked with smuggling weapons to Palestinian fighters in Gaza.
Nasrallah denied that the man, identified as Sami Shihab, was planning attacks in Egypt.
Hezbollah is a vocal supporter of Hamas and has lashed out at Egypt for closing its border crossing with the Palestinian enclave, the only one that bypasses Israel.
On Sunday, Egyptian Cabinet minister Mufeed Shehab told the Egyptian parliament that the alleged Hezbollah agents were "observing and locating the tourist groups who repeatedly come to south Sinai resorts and residences paving the way to target them in hostile activities," in a reference to Israeli tourists who frequently travel to Sinai for beach resort vacations.
Israel last week told its citizens to leave Sinai during the Jewish Passover holiday, because of a threat of attacks or kidnappings by Hezbollah.
(Alarabiya.net English, PC, Agencies)