egypt - AP - January 28 2011
Egyptian army armored vehicles patrol a street in Cairo following protests in Cairo, January 28, 2011. Photo by AP
Text size

Israeli officials say they have agreed to allow Egypt to move several hundred troops into the Sinai Peninsula for the first time since the countries signed a peace treaty three decades ago.

Under the 1979 peace treaty, Israel returned the captured Sinai to Egypt. In return, Egypt agreed to leave the area demilitarized.

With street protests threatening the Egyptian regime, the unnamed officials say that Israel agreed to allow the Egyptian army to move two battalions, about 800 soldiers, into Sinai. The officials say the troops moved into the Sharm el-Sheikh area on Sinai's southern tip, far from Israel, on Sunday.

As the unrest in Egypt has spread, Israeli officials have grown increasingly concerned about the stability of their southern neighbor. They are especially worried that Palestinian militants could take advantage of the unrest to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip through tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border.

The officials spoke Monday on condition of anonymity because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has banned the government from discussing the situation in Egypt.

There was no confirmation from Egypt, and David Satterfield, the director general of an independent 12-nation monitoring force in Sinai, refused to comment.

At the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu stressed the importance of Israel's peace with Egypt, saying "The peace between Israel and Egypt has lasted for more than three decades and our objective is to ensure that these relations will continue to exist."

Despite the ban on speaking about the current crisis in Egypt, senior Israeli officials said that Saturday night, the Foreign Ministry issued a directive to key embassies telling them to stress to their host countries the importance of Egypt's stability.