CAIRO – An Israeli soldier being held in Gaza by Hamas militants is in good condition, said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who said he hopes the issue of the soldier's release will be resolved soon.
Mubarak's comments came during a news conference Tuesday with Israeli President Shimon Peres who was visiting Cairo. The soldier, Gilad Schalit, has been held in Gaza for more than three years by militants who tunneled into Israel.
The 22-year-old Israeli sergeant has not been seen since, and Hamas has prevented the Red Cross from visiting him. Egypt has been mediating attempts to arrange a swap of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including militants involved in attacks, for the soldier.
When Mubarak was asked about Schalit, he answered: "Communications are ongoing. Schalit is in good condition. I hope that in the coming period, not in a long time, the Schalit issue will be closed."
Peres's visit was designed to discuss efforts to free Schalit as well as ways to promote a regional peace agreement.
Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab nations to have signed a peace agreement with Israel.
Both Mubarak and Peres emphasized that there is a good opportunity for peace.
"We cannot miss this opportunity. The differences between us are not that great that they cannot be overcome," Peres said. He also emphasized Israel's commitment to the two-state solution and said that Israel did not intend to build new settlements.
"Israel has no intention to rule over the Palestinian people. We have no intention to confiscate land, and we have no intention to build new settlements," he said. He did not address the issue of building within existing settlements, which has been a key point of contention between Israel and the United States.
The United States has been pushing for a freeze on all settlement building while the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been arguing for the right to build within existing settlements to allow for growing families.
The presidency in Israel is largely a ceremonial role but Peres' high stature and the controversial reputation of the current Israeli foreign minister who has been shunned by Egypt after he cursed Mubarak for not visiting Israel means the Israeli president's visit takes on a greater diplomatic significance.