Egypt’s military council meets politicians to discuss reform, elections

Egyptian source says Sharaf’s remarks on peace treaty do not mean its cancellation

Erekat says U.S. veto would destroy two states solution

Egypt's military rulers Sunday met with leaders of the nation's political powers to debate preparations for legislative elections expected to be held in November.

Deputy chief of the ruling military council Sami Anan conferred with the senior politicians from around 40 political parties and groups, and listened to their objections to regulations for the forthcoming elections, close sources said on Sunday.

"The military rulers are at pains to confirm that they have no vested interests in imposing a certain election system and that they will accept what the political powers agree on," added the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Many political powers demand that the forthcoming elections be held exclusively according to the slate system and that the individual candidacy be dropped in order to bar members of former president Hosni Mubarak's now-disbanded party from running for the parliament.

Meanwhile, a commission tasked with setting the scene for the parliamentary elections, has proposed November 21 as the date for starting these elections, according to the semi-official newspaper Al-Ahram.

The paper quoted the commission's head Abdul-Moez Ibrahim as saying that the elections would be held in three rounds. "The commission also proposed that the elections for the Shura Council (the upper house of the parliament) be held on January 22," he added.

The military rulers dissolved the two houses of the parliament days after a popular revolt forced Mubarak to step down.

"The (ruling) Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will issue a decree on September 26 setting the exact dates of elections," the official Middle East News Agency quoted an official source at the electoral commission as saying on Sunday. "The military council has the final say in setting these days," added the source.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Foreign Ministry summoned the Egyptian ambassador for a talk Friday after Egypt's prime minister said his country's 1979 peace treaty with Israel could be amended, a ministry spokesman said.

The spokesman, Paul Hirschson, would not give details of the conversation.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf told Turkish TV on Thursday that the treaty "is not sacred. ... It can be revised."

Sharaf did not elaborate. Egyptian officials have recently been arguing for more Egyptian troops in the Sinai Peninsula, where militant activity is on the rise.

Currently, the treaty defines that area of the Sinai along Israel's border as a demilitarized zone, barring Egyptian troops. Israel has accepted temporary Egyptian deployments there.

The treaty was the first signed between an Arab country and Israel. Jordan followed in 1994.

Israel has been concerned about the fate of the treaty since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February.

Mubarak steadfastly upheld the treaty, even though popular sentiment in Egypt is hostile to Israel.

Although the current government in Cairo has voiced its commitment to the treaty, relations have been strained since Mubarak's ouster.

An Egyptian Foreign Ministry official Israel sought clarification of the prime minister's comments about the peace deal. The official reiterated Egypt's commitment to upholding the treaty as long as Israel does the same.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of ministry rules that bar him from being identified in the press.

Egypt and Israel both receive large amounts of foreign aid from the U.S. The U.S. contributions to Egypt reached $2 billion annually after the treaty was signed.

A Mubarak-era natural gas deal perceived in Egypt as a corrupt transaction that netted Mubarak and his cronies millions of dollars and gave Israel bargain prices has been a target of harsh criticism since his downfall. Israel insists it is paying a fair price for the gas.

Violence last month further soured the atmosphere.

Palestinian militants who infiltrated Israel from Egypt's Sinai desert killed eight Israelis. Six Egyptian soldiers in Sinai were killed as Israel pursued the attackers, sparking protests in Egypt.

Last week, rioters ransacked the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, forcing the Israeli ambassador, staffers and their families to flee on military planes back home.

On the other hand, PLO official Saeb Erekat said Friday that a US veto at the Security Council of a Palestinian request to join the UN would amount to a rejection of the two-state solution, "destroying" the peace process.

Erekat says President Mahmoud Abbas is making every effort for the peace process and the two-state solution, so the international community should support the UN initiative.

Israel's efforts to stop the Palestinian move reveal its "intent to destroy the peace process and eliminate the two-state solution while choosing to continue settlements, the Gaza siege, raids, and assassinations," Erekat was quoted as saying in a statement released by his office on Friday.

Erekat's office says he has met in recent days with US envoy Tony Blair, the UN envoy for the peace process Robert Serry, and the consul-generals and representatives of Italy, France, Britain and Germany.