Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.jpg
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (L) speak during a joint brief statement to the media at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, Israel, 10 July 2016.
Photograph: EPA/ABIR SULTAN

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry urged Israel and the Palestinians to return to long-broken-down peace negotiations Sunday, in the first visit to Israel by a top diplomat from Cairo in nearly a decade.

"It is no longer acceptable to say that the status quo is the most we can achieve," Shoukry said in Jerusalem, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

His visit, he said, came "at a crucial and challenging junction for the Middle East" and was a "continuation of Egypt's long-standing responsibility for peace for itself and for all the peoples of the region, particulary the Israelis and the Palestinians."

Netanyahu welcomed an unusual speech made by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi in May, in which al-Sissi made a direct appeal to Israeli leaders and public opinion for progress towards a peace deal with the Palestinians.

In clear reference to a French bid - rejected by Israel - to launch multi-lateral talks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu reiterated that direct negotiations were the "only way to resolve problems" between Israel and the Palestinians.

The visit to Israel follows Shoukry's June 29 visit to Ramallah in the West Bank.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said Sunday's "significant" visit was an attempt to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians, but would also focus on Israeli-Egyptian bilateral issues.

Israel Radio said the visit would pave the way for Netanyahu to visit Egypt.

The last visit by an Egyptian foreign minister to Israel was in 2007. 

Egypt's former president Mohammed Morsi enjoyed close ties with Hamas at the expense of Israeli-Egyptian relations. The Islamist movement which rules Gaza is the Palestinian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Netanyahu said the visit marked the positive change in Israel-Egypt relations since al-Sissi assumed power in 2014.

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