JERUSALEM – Egypt's new ambassador to Israel formally assumed his post Wednesday, saying his country's new Islamist government remains committed to peace with the Jewish state.
Israel and Egypt signed a historic peace agreement in 1979 that has since been the bedrock of relations between the countries, but ties have grown tense since longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak — a steadfast supporter of the treaty — was ousted in a popular uprising last year and Islamist Mohammed Morsi was elected his successor in June.
Presenting his credentials Wednesday, Ambassador Atef Salem al-Ahl told Israeli President Shimon Peres that Egypt is "committed to all the agreements we signed with Israel and we are also committed to the peace treaty with Israel."
Jordan's new ambassador to Israel, Walid Obeidat, also on Wednesday officially took up his post, which had been vacant for two years despite diplomatic relations between the countries since 1994.
Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab countries to have peace treaties with Israel. The agreements are widely unpopular in both Arab countries because of Israel's policies towards the Palestinians. A large part of the Jordanian population is of Palestinian origin.
Egypt's new president, who hails from the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, has been cooler toward Israel than Mubarak's autocratic regime was. But the Brotherhood repeatedly has said it will abide by the peace accord but has called for changes in the limits on troop numbers in the Sinai Peninsula, saying they impinge on Egyptian sovereignty.
The ties have been further strained by the deteriorating security situation in Sinai, where there has been a sharp increase in militant attacks on targets both in Egypt and across the border in Israel. The Jewish state has allowed Egypt to temporarily strengthen its forces in the Sinai to fight Islamist militants, but has opposed formalizing any changes to the treaty.
Tensions were further exacerbated last year when Egyptian protesters ransacked offices of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, dumping Hebrew-language documents out of a window and trapping six Israeli staff inside for several hours. The protests were in response to the killing of six Egyptian police officers near the border by Israeli forces, who were chasing militants who killed eight Israelis in a cross-border attack.
Another complication came last week when the Muslim Brotherhood's supreme leader, Mohammed Badie, called on Muslims worldwide to defend Jerusalem, saying "Zionists only know the way of force." He said that Jews were spreading "corruption" and had slaughtered Muslims and desecrated holy sites. Morsi made no public comments about Badie's remarks.