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Mubarak, Israeli defense minister meet

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (CNN) -- Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met Monday to discuss political security and regional issues.

The defense minister was expected to seek Egyptian support in removing Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat from the peacemaking process.

But a Kuwaiti newspaper reports that the Egyptian leader opposes the Israeli and U.S. position on Arafat.

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"Sidelining Arafat will be a big mistake we will all regret," Mubarak told Kuwait's al-Seyassah paper before the meeting. "The man with his experience and role has the loyalty of Palestinians inside and abroad."

Mubarak was expected to call for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank cities it reoccupied recently in response to another wave of suicide bombings, which killed 26 Israelis in Jerusalem last month. A series of suicide bombings and shootings have claimed the lives of more than 220 Israelis since January.

The Alexandria talks follow recent visits to Egypt by Israeli Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh and Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg.

Mideast analysts observe that the visits by Ben-Eliezer and the other Israelis appear to have a domestic, political aspect to them.

Ben-Eliezer, Sneh and Burg are members of the Labor Party, the main partner in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unity coalition government. Sharon leads the Likud party, which is Labor's longtime rival.

Ben-Eliezer, Labor's leader, is said to be eyeing the prime minister position down the road.

In addition, the visits are being interpreted as a way for Labor to position itself in Israeli politics as the party most effective in seeking peace.

Mubarak also will meet with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat. It is not known whether Erakat and Ben-Eliezer will meet.




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