Israel should consider amending its peace treaty with Egypt so as to allow the Egyptian Army to significantly increase its presence in Sinai in light of the deteriorating security situation there, senior Israel Defense Forces officials said Sunday.
"In the past, there was complete opposition to this, but new voices are being heard of late and the matter is no longer being rejected out of hand," a senior IDF officer said.
The peace treaty places restrictions on the number of Egyptian forces in the area and also the types of weapons they can maintain in Sinai, dividing the peninsula into zones that are demilitarized to varying extents. For example, the treaty prohibits Egypt from deploying tanks or artillery on the border with Israel.
After the 2007 takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas, the Israeli Foreign Ministry agreed to an Egyptian request to double the 750-strong border police force stationed on Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip after the disengagement. However, the Defense Ministry and the IDF opposed the move. It was only in January 2009, after Operation Cast Lead, that Israel and Egypt reached an agreement over the increased deployment.
Since the revolution in Egypt, Israel has twice agreed for Egypt to deploy more troops in Sinai to secure essential infrastructure such as the gas pipeline to Israel. Israel also approved the temporary deployment of heavy weapons into Sinai for the first time since 1979.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed his ministers Sunday to avoid statements to the media on relations with Egypt so as not to ratchet up tensions with Cairo.
The Egyptian government Sunday released a statment welcoming Defense Minister Ehud Barak's expression of regret over the deaths of three Egyptian soldiers during the exchange of fire Thursday, adding, however, that the statement was not enough.
Meanwhile, a 23-year-old Egyptian, Ahmed Shahhat, climbed to the roof of the 13-story apartment building housing the Israeli Embassy in Cairo early Sunday morning and removed the Israeli flag from the roof, replacing it with an Egyptian flag he had carried with him.
Shahhat, who became an instant folk hero in Egypt, said his action had come in protest against the killing of the three Egyptian soldiers. A resident in the building opened his balcony door for Shahhat, who made the rest of the way down by elevator and was welcomed by thousands of protesters who have been demonstrating outside the building with calls to suspend the Israel-Egypt peace treaty.
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