US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday visited Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, a day after the Egyptian leader made an unusual direct appeal to Israeli leaders and public opinion for progress towards a peace deal with the Palestinians.
The US top diplomat discussed a range of regional issues with al-Sisi during his brief visit to Cairo, officials from the two sides said, including the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Libya.
Kerry "expressed his appreciation" for al-Sissi's "recent statement of strong support for advancing Arab-Israeli peace," his spokesman Mark Toner said after the meeting.
Al-Sisi on Tuesday had called on the Israeli leadership and the country's political parties to seize what he said was a "real opportunity" to resolve the dispute with the Palestinians, asking that the Israeli leadership allow his speech to be broadcast locally.
The Egyptian leader pointed to a French initiative to hold an international Middle East peace conference, as well as a long-standing Arab proposal to normalize relations with Israel in return for an agreement to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Al-Sissi said that current security cooperation between Egypt and Israel showed what could be achieved with "trust and reassurance" between previously warring parties.
Egypt and Israel fought four major wars between 1948 and 1973 but signed a peace treaty in 1979.
"Please - the Israeli parties and the Israeli leadership - come to an agreement to find a solution to this crisis," he said. "Please, there is a great opportunity for a better future, a better life, more hope."
Al-Sisi's remarks were widely covered in the Israeli media and were welcomed by Israel's hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even though the latter has rejected the French proposal for a peace conference on the grounds that only direct negotiations with the Palestinians are the way forward.
The Palestinians have supported French President Francois Hollande's proposal. They argue that over 20 years of direct and US-brokered negotiations have so far resulted in increasing Israeli settlements in the West Bank and no clear progress towards the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Hollande on Tuesday told Europe 1 radio that the talks, originally scheduled for May 30, would take place sometime during the European summer to facilitate Kerry's participation.
Israel's Channel 2 in its Wednesday night news bulletin claimed that Netanyahu and al-Sissi are in close contact, speaking on the phone about once a week.
It said that al-Sisi's statement "didn't surprise" Netanyahu - hinting that it was coordinated, to encourage the centre-left, pro-peace Zionist Union party of opposition leader Isaac Herzog to join the Netanyahu government, more than a year after the March 2015 Israeli elections.
If Herzog is to be appointed foreign minister, he would be used to convene a regional conference with the cooperation of al-Sissi, said Channel 2.
But both Netanyahu's and Herzog's offices earlier today denied any connection between al-Sisi's statement and the internal Israeli attempts by Netanyahu to broaden his governing coalition.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also praised the Egyptian president's call to Israel and the Palestinians to make peace. Fatah Central Committee Member Azzam el-Ahmed called upon Israel to take the call seriously so that peace and security could be established in the region, Israel Radio reported.
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