Egypt appoints new ambassador to Israel

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By TIA GOLDENBERG, Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) — Egypt has appointed a new ambassador to Israel, choosing an experienced career diplomat, officials from both countries said, in what some took as sign of positive relations between Israel and Egypt under an Islamist president in Cairo.

Atef Salem el-Ahl has been serving as Egypt's consul in the Israeli resort town of Eilat. He will replace Yasser Reda, whose four-year term ends this summer. Israel's Foreign Ministry and Egypt's state media confirmed the appointment Sunday.

The choice of an envoy familiar with Israel counters concerns in Jerusalem that relations with Cairo could be downgraded with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

"There is no downgrade," said Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt. "It shows the new Egypt lends importance to the Israeli relationship ... This is very encouraging."

Israel's relations with Egypt have been tense and uncertain since the ouster last year of longtime President Hosni Mubarak, who maintained the 1979 peace accord between the two nations and cooperated with Israel in a number of spheres.

Israeli concerns deepened with Muslim Brotherhood victories in elections for Egypt's parliament and president. The Islamist group's Mohammed Morsi took office as president on June 30.

Morsi has been cooler toward Israel than his predecessor. The Muslim Brotherhood has said it will abide by the peace accord, a cornerstone of stability for both nations, but has repeatedly called for changes in the limits on troops in the Sinai Peninsula, calling them unacceptable limits on Egyptian sovereignty.

The ties have been further strained by the deteriorating situation in Sinai, where militants have staged multiple attacks on the pipeline delivering gas from Egypt to Israel, lobbed rockets into Israel more frequently and have snuck across the border, killing Israelis.

On Aug. 5, Islamist gunmen brazenly killed 16 Egyptian soldiers before smashing through a fence into Israel. Egypt responded by launching a sweeping operation, using tanks and troops against the militants.

Israel allowed Egypt to increase its military presence in Sinai to carry out the operation and praised the crackdown, but balked once tanks were sent to the area. Some were removed, ostensibly in response to Israel's complaints, and Israel urged greater coordination.

Egypt's Foreign Ministry said el-Ahl's appointment was part of a reshuffle that included 34 other ambassadors. Officially, Israel played down its significance.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor noted the standard nature of the appointment, calling it "totally natural and normal."

El-Ahl is scheduled to submit his credentials to Israel's president in October.

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