Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmed Maher traveled to Israel on 22 December to meet with senior Israeli officials - his first visit to the country for more than two years. On arrival, Maher met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem. 'I am sure that this visit will contribute to the strengthening of relations between Egypt and Israel,' Sharon told reporters before the meeting. 'Egypt is the biggest and most important country in the Middle East. I hope this visit will contribute to our relationship with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and our efforts to reach a peace agreement.' During the talks Sharon criticised Egypt's detention of Israeli citizen Azzam Azzam, who has been imprisoned for eight years on charges of espionage. He also said that Israel was not ready to sign a ceasefire agreement with militant groups operating in the Occupied Territories, but would 'respond to quiet with quiet,' local radio reported. Maher is scheduled to meet Israeli President Moshe Katsav, Foreign Affairs Minister Silvan Shalom and leader of the opposition, Shimon Peres. He is also expected to visit the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sherif) and pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, but will not meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (MEED 12:12:03
Maher's visit comes a day after the Israeli military arrested a senior Palestinian militant during a raid in the West Bank. Israeli officials described the detained man, Adnan Asfour, as a leader of Palestinian militant group Hamas.