Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Palestinian rocket fire on southern Israeli communities is no reason to halt the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said. But one Israeli lawmaker said Mubarak's comments show that he has no respect for Israeli suffering.
Egypt, considered by Washington as a moderate Arab State and a U.S. ally in the region, has played a central role as a Middle East broker on Israeli-Palestinian relations and in trying to calm the recent inter-Palestinian violence. Israel also is pressuring Egypt to take more action along the Egypt-Gaza border
Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for firing two rockets at southern Israel on Friday. One of them crashed into the Israeli city of Sderot, causing some damage but no injuries other than emotional distress.
"These Kassam rockets, they'll fire them every other day," Mubarak said at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert following their meeting in Sharm e-Sheikh on Thursday evening.
"Shall we stop the peace process because one or two individuals fire rockets? We must proceed with the peace process," Mubarak said.
"Israel has a right to defend itself against the rockets," said Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisen. "Israel has been very restrained."
Israel has exercised what it calls a policy of "restraint" - not responding to the rocket fire - for the past several weeks of "ceasefire." But when two teenagers were wounded in a rocket attack last week, Israel threatened to attack rocket-launching squads caught in the act. It hasn't happened yet.
Knesset member Yuval Steinitz said that Mubarak's comments "showed no respect for the suffering of Israeli citizens" and no respect for Palestinian commitments to Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
Palestinian militants launched more than 1,100 rockets at southern Israel last year, more than 70 of them after an Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire was declared in the Gaza Strip at the end of November.
Steinitz, a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, wrote a letter earlier this week to Olmert, urging him not to visit Egypt unless Mubarak agreed to an official reciprocal visit to Israel. (Mubarak's only visit to Israel was for the funeral of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.)
Steinitz said Mubarak should also agree to launch a "decisive campaign" against the smuggling of weapons and explosives into the Gaza Strip.
Israeli military officials say that Palestinian terror groups have smuggled tons of weapons, ammunition and explosives into the Gaza Strip over the last year, ever since Israel turned over control of the Egyptian-Gaza border to Palestinian and Egyptian control.
One Israeli official said the Egyptian-Gaza border is not Mubarak's "top priority." Terrorism in the Sinai Desert, which abuts the border, is a higher priority for Egypt, but even in curbing violence in the Sinai, Egypt has not been entirely successful, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
(Egypt has been rocked by al-Qaeda-style attacks on several resorts in the Sinai Desert over the last three years.)
When Mubarak was pressed on the issue of halting the weapons smuggling, he answered in a "defensive tone," said the official.
Some Israeli analysts say the only way to control the smuggling is for Israel to re-take control of the narrow passage between Egypt and Gaza.
Steinitz said Mubarak could do more to stop the smuggling. But Mubarak, in saying that he cannot stop the smuggling, is showing that he has an interest in letting it proceed, Steinitz added.
Thursday's Olmert-Mubarak meeting was overshadowed by an Israeli military operation in the West Bank city of Ramallah. During an Israeli undercover operation to arrest a "senior wanted Palestinian," the man tried to escape and was wounded by Israeli forces. He still managed to escape.
A large crowd of Palestinians surrounded the Israeli forces and threw Molotov cocktails and cinder blocks at them and opened fire, the army said.
Israeli forces returned fire at the rioting crowd, and in the ensuing exchanges, six Palestinians reportedly were killed and 18 others wounded.
Mubarak criticized the Israeli military action in Ramallah, saying that "Israel and all the people in the region will achieve peace only by refraining from all practices which obstruct its course."
Olmert said Israel regretted the deaths of civilians, but he defended Israel's military operation. He said it was intended to stop terrorists responsible for the deaths of Israelis.
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