Text size

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz announced Wednesday that Israel and Egypt have reached an agreement in principle on the deployment of 750 Egyptian border troops along the Gaza-Egypt frontier.

A few weeks ago, Egypt proposed deploying the 750 armed troops on the Egyptian side of the Philadelphi Route in the Rafah area, to reinforce security and prevent arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip. At present, only policemen are deployed there in keeping with the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement.

"We have reached an agreement that allows for the deployment of additional Egyptian forces on the Egyptian side of the border, despite the fact that the peace agreements don't allow this," Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said earlier Wednesday after talks with his Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, in Jerusalem.

The 1979 Camp David peace accord limits the Egyptian military presence along the border. But Mofaz, speaking after his talks with with the head of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleiman, said that arrangements would be made to avoid changes to the treaty.

Israel on Tuesday accepted Egypt's offer to beef up its forces on the border between Sinai and the Gaza Strip and to train Palestinian officers, according to government sources.

Egypt also offered to train Palestinian officers to help them take over the Strip after Israel's withdrawal. The sources said Israel will propose coordinating the Egyptian deployment with the pullout.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told a delegation of American senators Tuesday that he would discuss with the Egyptian ministers "how Egypt is enlisting to reinstate stability in Gaza and to promote Israel's security coordination with the Palestinians." Sharon said that if Egypt acts to stop the smuggling, the Israel Defense Forces would be able to withdraw from the Philadelphi route.

Sharon told the senators that Egypt must act against arms smuggling into the Strip not only near the border but also well inside its territory.

Suleiman and Abu Gheit was to have met with Sharon, Shalom and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

Syrian trackDuring the Egyptians' visit, they were also to attempt to advance Syrian requests to begin peace negotiations.

Egyptian presidential spokesman Maged Abdel Fattah on Tuesday told reporters that "Syria has said that it does not insist on the Rabin deposit and does not hang on to what was agreed in previous negotiations. Israel must follow suit."

"The Rabin deposit" is the diplomatic term for the Syrian claim, contested by many Israelis, that assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin promised full withdrawal from the Golan Heights in any final peace agreement with Syria.

Israeli officials contend that any offer by Rabin was conditional and hypothetical, designed to test what the Syrians were prepared to offer in return.

However, in Damascus, Syria's official news agency quoted Assad as restating Syria's long-standing position that peace talks must resume from the point they broke off in 2000.

In addition, assistant Syrian foreign minister, Wallid Mualem, told the Al-Arabiyah television station that Damascus is not willing to give up anything achieved in previous talks. However, he added, peace is a "strategic choice" for Syria.

Assad told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in a meeting Tuesday at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh that restarting the peace process "will be through building on what had already been achieved and completed in order to reach a just and comprehensive peace which returns full rights," SANA reported.

"A Syrian official source stressed Syria's constant position toward resuming peace negotiations [with Israel] and the need to build on what had already been achieved," SANA reported hours after the talks.

It quoted the unnamed official as saying that Assad told Mubarak that "this position has not changed."

The official noted that this position "doesn't include any conditions to resume negotiations. Rather, it stresses the goal which is peace and fulfilling its requirements," according to SANA.