Egyptian Deployment on Gaza Border Due to Begin Sunday

Palestinians ready to consider continued Israeli inspection.

Egypt will begin deploying troops on the Gaza border on Sunday, Israeli defense officials said Thursday, even though the two countries have failed to agree on whether Israel would oversee traffic into the coastal strip to stop weapons smuggling.

Egyptian and Israeli generals are set to sign the accord in Cairo Thursday to allow 750 lightly armed troops to deploy in the area, overriding a demilitarization clause in the 1979 peace treaty.

The troops, waiting for the green light in the Sinai Desert town of El Arish, will begin deploying 72 hours after the signing, the officials said.

The Knesset approved the deal Wednesday in a 53-28 vote.

Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman assured Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Wednesday night that the Egyptians would make sure no weapons were smuggled from Egypt into Gaza and that the Egyptian guards would remove terrorists and arms from the Sinai, according to the radio.

But he rejected Israel's proposal to relocate the border crossing from the Rafah area farther southeast to a point where the Egyptian-Gaza-Israeli borders meet, and allow Israel to inspect movements into Gaza.

Palestinians ready to consider continued Israeli inspectionThe Palestinians are ready to consider continued Israeli inspection of goods entering the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian foreign minister said Thursday, signaling a possible breakthrough in a key dispute over border arrangements after Israel's pullout from the coastal strip.

The foreign minister, Nasser al-Kidwa, insisted however, that Israel could not have control over people entering and leaving Gaza through the Rafah crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border.

As part of the Gaza pullout, Israel will leave the narrow strip it had been patrolling on the Gaza-Egypt border. This means Israeli inspectors will have to leave the Rafah crossing.

However, Israel is reluctant to give up control over people and goods flowing into Gaza, fearing militants could try to smuggle weapons into the coastal strip.

Egypt and the Palestinians have proposed deploying foreign inspectors at Rafah to prevent smuggling, but Israel has rejected the idea.

Instead, Israel has proposed moving the Rafah crossing to a three-way meeting point between Egypt, Gaza and Israel - which would allow the continued presence of Israeli inspectors.

The Palestinians initially rejected the idea, but al-Kidwa told a news conference Thursday, "we would consider having goods come in the way Israel has proposed, at a trilateral crossing," he said.

Meanwhile, Israel is due to start constructing a new border-crossing terminal at Kerem Shalom on the Israel-Egypt-Gaza border next week, despite opposition from Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is to meet Thursday with Palestinian Authority officials about the terminal, whose control is a major post-disengagement issue.

Israel wants the entry from Egypt into the Gaza Strip to be via the Kerem Shalom terminal even after disengagement, so it can monitor customs on goods, and security. It is threatening to exclude Gaza from the customs union with Israel and the West Bank if the Palestinians insist on running the terminal on their own.

Work on the site is to begin immediately after the committee for security facilities in the south meets to approve the allocation of land for the Kerem Shalom terminal, scheduled for Monday. The Defense Ministry has approved the initial outlay for the project.