Egyptian Plan: Int'l Force to Be Deployed in Gaza After Pullout

Jordan waiting for results of PA-Egypt talks before deciding on West Bank role; Palestinian militants object to Egyptian, Jordanian roles.

Yoav Stern
Arnon Regular, Haaretz Correspondents
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Yoav Stern
Arnon Regular, Haaretz Correspondents

According to an Egyptian plan revealed on Tuesday, international forces would be deployed in the Gaza City seaport following a withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip.

The Egyptian plan also indicated a new seaport would be built on the Gaza coastline, the Strip's airport would be rehabilitated and a safe passage would be opened between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

A multinational force deployed in Gaza "will take security responsibility for the seaport and airport and will operate together with the Palestinian Authority security forces to insure that Israel is not able to claim there is no control over these sensitive locations," said a senior Egyptian source.

The Egyptian plan is broken down into three stages.

The first stage would include negotiations and agreement by the two sides on the sensitive locations in Gaza. These talks would be mediated by Egyptian intelligence chief General Omar Suleiman.

Both sides would acknowledge their acceptance of the plan and would obligate not to violate the agreements. The various Palestinian organizations would also have to agree to the plan. The heads of the Palestinian groups would carry out talks on the matter in Cairo.

In the second stage, Israel would begin withdrawing from the Strip and from four settlements in the northern West Bank. Israel and the Palestinians would then return to the negotiation table for talks on a final status agreement.

The Egyptians emphasized their plan corresponds with the U.S.-sponsored road map peace plan.

According to an Egyptian source, the plan was formulated with the participation of President Hosni Mubarak prior to his trip to Germany for medical treatment.

The plan was also coordinated with international parties, a number of which agreed to provide significant financial assistance in order to support the plan. The World Bank, for example, agreed to donate $1 billion a year to rehabilitate the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Egyptians are also holding talks with representatives of the Quartet and separately with the Americans.

Jordan: We'll wait until conclusion of PA-Egypt talks Jordan will wait for the conclusion of security coordination talks now being held between Israel, Egypt and the PA before it decides how to assist the disengagement plan, Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, his Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Maher, expressed confidence that the Palestinian people would welcome Egyptian security involvement in the Gaza Strip after the planned Israeli withdrawal.

"We will wait for the results of the talks in order to make sure that conditions suit our assistance," Muasher told reporters during a joint press conference in Amman with French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier.

Muasher also emphasized Jordan will act in according with the wishes of the PA and is prepared to send teams to train Palestinian security forces if Israel is to withdraw from the territories.

"The withdrawal would need to be complete and would need to bring an end to the occupation of the West Bank," Muasher said.

He said it is still early to initiate Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian contacts along the lines of those being held between Israel, the PA and Egypt.

Maher, the Egyptian foreign minister, said Tuesday at a conference in Cairo: "I know the Palestinian people appreciate the role played by Egypt and I don't believe any Palestinian can ever consider attacking any member of an Egyptian group that is going to be sent to Palestine."

Maher was himself was attacked by Palestinian Islamic extremists when he visited Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque in December after talks with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Egypt has offered to send some 200 military experts to Gaza to retrain Palestinian security forces. But it is also demanding that the Palestinians merge their 12 security divisions into three, halt to attacks on Israelis, and that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat yield some of his powers to his cabinet.

While the PA has officially welcomed the Egyptian involvement, a Palestinian official and militant groups have expressed misgivings.

"We don't want to be cut off from Egypt, and at the same time we don't want Egyptian interference," Sakher Habash, an ally of Palestinian leader Arafat and member of the ruling Fatah movement's influential Central Committee, said Tuesday.

A post-withdrawal program unveiled by a Gaza security chief, Major General Abdel Razek Majaidie, does not mention the streamlining of Palestinian security divisions - as Egypt has requested.

Palestinian militants strongly oppose Egypt's Gaza role Representatives of major Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have criticized the proposed Egyptian role in Gaza. After a meeting in Lebanon on Monday, the groups issued a statement saying: "We are amazed by, and deplore, the talk of a 'security role' for some Arab parties in Gaza and the West Bank, because our people expect the Arab nation to act according to the logic of supporting the Palestinians and not the logic of 'security,' which cannot be used with regard to the Palestinian people defending its land and its holy places. The references [to security] turn things on their heads, making the problem the Palestinian people and not the occupation."

The statement comes before a return trip to Israel and the PA this week by Egypt's head of intelligence, Omar Suleiman, who is coordinating the Egyptian effort to guarantee an orderly and stable Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal.

The statement attacks Egypt and Jordan and calls the role envisioned for the two "as an attempt to take over the Palestinian problem." It was the most severe criticism so far by the organizations of Egypt's role in preparing for the disengagement and the intentions they ascribe to Jordan and its role in the West Bank.

"The Palestinian people will not accept the logic of guardianship and turning the Palestinians into apprentices instead of adopting a combined Palestinian and Arab policy" based on solidarity and joint action.

The announcement says it regards an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as a victory for the armed struggle and it rejects any attempt to demand any quid pro quo from the Palestinians for it.

"Any withdrawal must be unconditional with no guarantees for the safety of the enemy and must be a first step toward the liberation of the rest of our lands. The armed struggle will continue until the expulsion of the occupiers."

The statement says the disengagement is dangerous "because it expands settlements in the West Bank and isolates Gaza from the conflict, creating an internal Palestinian crisis, and it attempts to decide the conflict with developments on the ground that are supported by the United States, Israel's ally."

Egypt asks Israel to halt Gaza military operations Egypt has asked Israel to halt military operations in the Gaza Strip as a condition for sending Egyptian "military experts" into the area after an Israeli disengagement. The request was made in the lead-up to the talks Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman will hold Wednesday in Jerusalem and Ramallah on the matter of security coordination.

Israel opposes the halting of Israel Defense Force operations in Gaza.

"We will not agree to this condition," said a senior diplomatic figure. "If there will be terrorism from the Strip we will continue to operation and we won't tie our own hands."

Nevertheless, the figure said he believes a solution would be found despite conflict over the Egyptian demand.

"In the end we will find a formulation that will allow us to work cooperatively with the Egyptians. The convergence of interests between us and them is large. It is no less important to the Egyptians than it is to us that there is quiet in the Strip. It is thus reasonable to assume that we will reach agreement in the end," the official said.

One suggested solution is the determining of specific areas in the Gaza Strip that would have an Egyptian presence. Any IDF activity in these areas would need to be coordinated with Egyptian authorities in advance.



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