Egypt's Mubarak Holds Meeting Despite Illness

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Speculation that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is suffering from cancer of the stomach and pancreas has been surfacing with increasing frequency over the past several months.

A report in Sunday's Washington Times cited "an intelligence officer from a Central European service" predicting that Mubarak would not live to see Egypt's September 2011 presidential elections.

Periodically Egyptian government officials dismiss the talk as rumor, but according to the Times report, the Obama administration is monitoring the situation, especially from the perspective of Mubarak's successor.

Two leading contenders to succeed the 83-year-old president are his youngest son, Gamal, and Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

Earlier this month the London-based Arab-language daily al-Quds al-Arabia reported that Mubarak underwent more medical tests in Paris on the sidelines of a "surprise" visit with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri.

In March, Mubarak became ill during meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and was hospitalized for some type of gallbladder surgery.

The Times article also quoted Egyptian-affairs specialist Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, who said during his last visit to Cairo in May, "everyone understood" that Mubarak was terminally ill, and doctors have been able to help the president continue with his responsibilities.

Weekend Meetings in Sharm el-Sheikh

On Sunday, Mubarak held separate meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama Middle East envoy George Mitchell, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Before leaving for Sharm el-Sheikh, Netanyahu said he was seeking Mubarak's backing for moving from indirect to direct talks with the Palestinians.

"I intend to speak with President Mubarak about ways to accelerate the entry into direct negotiations between us and the Palestinians," Netanyahu told cabinet ministers on Sunday morning.

Following the meeting, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said "the basis to proceed from indirect to direct talks…is still lacking."

"We need to help the Americans and both parties [to] come closer to each other," Gheit told reporters.

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