ROME - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in an interview published Sunday that he would be prepared to send troops to a future Palestinian state to help stabilise it.

Sisi, who begins his first European trip on Monday since ousting his Islamist predecessor, made the comments in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. He is due to visit France and Italy, while the trip will also include a meeting with Pope Francis.

The Egyptian leader said he would send forces to a future Palestinian state in agreement with Israel and the Palestinian authority. “We are ready to send military forces into a Palestinian state,” he said.

“We would help the local police and reassure the Israelis through our role as guarantor. Not forever, of course. For the time necessary to reestablish confidence. But first a Palestinian state must exist where troops can be sent to.”Sisi said he had spoken of the idea with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Speaking of neighbouring Libya, Sisi described the country as having descended into “chaos” and said “extremely dangerous jihadist bases” were being established there. “The international community must make a very clear and joint choice in favour of the Libyan national army and no one else,” Sisi said. “Aid, equipment, training must be sent to it exclusively.”

Meanwhile, Israel’s government Sunday endorsed a proposal to anchor in law the country’s status as the national homeland of the Jewish people, drawing fire from critics who said it weakened democracy.

“The cabinet today approved a draft basic law: ‘Israel the national state of the Jewish people” said a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, one of whose MPs was a sponsor.

Netanyahu also announced a separate initiative to strip Arabs of their residency and welfare rights if they or their relatives take part in unrest. Following a stormy meeting, the cabinet voted 14 to six in favour of the national homeland proposal, with ministers from the two centrist parties - HaTnuah led by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yesh Atid of Finance Minister Yair Lapid - voting against, media reports said. The proposal would mean Israel would no longer be defined in its Basic Laws as “Jewish and democratic” but instead as “the national homeland of the Jewish people”.

Critics, who include the government’s top legal adviser, say the proposed change to the laws that act as Israel’s effective constitution could institutionalise discrimination against its 1.7 million Arab citizens.

By giving preeminence to the “Jewish” character of Israel over its democratic nature, the law in its current format is anti-democratic, they say.  The Israel Democracy Institute said that the state’s Jewish identity is already contained in its 1948 declaration of independence.

Suspected Jewish extremists firebombed a house in a Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank early on Sunday, its mayor told AFP, pointing the finger of blame at local settlers. “At 4:00 am (0200 GMT), settlers came and threw molotov cocktails at a house which partly burned down,” said Masud Abu Mura, mayor of Khirbet Abu Falah, northeast of Ramallah. He said four women were inside the house at the time, but they all escaped unharmed.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian farmer near the border in northern Gaza on Sunday in the first deadly shooting since an August truce ended a 50-day war, medics said.

Emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra identified the dead man as Fadel Mohammed Halawa, 32, saying the bullet had hit him in the back.

Qudra said the bullet appeared to have been fired from a nearby army watchtower at a man who was farming land near the border fence.

The Israeli army said two Palestinians had approached the fence and had ignored calls to halt, prompting troops to fire warning shots in the air.