Egypt ready to take major role in Gaza security after pullout

25/05/2004 Egypt is ready for significant involvement in the security arrangements in Gaza and in the Philadelphi corridor between Gaza and Egypt, after an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, government sources said Monday night after meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. Palestinian sources, speaking after Suleiman met with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat on Monday, said Egypt is proposing a four-member committee – consisting of Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and the United States – to coordinate a handover from Israel to PA security forces after an Israeli withdrawal. Israel has so far refused any direct contact with the Palestinians regarding Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan. Israel has yet to respond to the Egyptian idea for a four-way committee, which Cairo has submitted to the Americans but not yet formally to Israel. Nor have the details of that plan been presented to Israel. Suleiman met with Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. Suleiman asked to hear details about the latest version of the disengagement plan, which Sharon plans to bring to the cabinet next Sunday. Suleiman wanted to know about the planned stages of the withdrawal and settlement evacuations, and if Israel planned to remain in the Philadelphi corridor for very long or only until appropriate security arrangements can be made to prevent smuggling and infiltration by hostile elements.

According to government sources, the Egyptians are ready to send „an active training force” to train Palestinian security forces in Gaza. Suleiman said Egypt was ready to carry out more stringent inspections of the tunnels in Rafah, to monitor the Philadelphi area and to put specially trained soldiers on the job. The political echelon turned a blind eye to Suleiman’s meeting with Arafat. One government source said, „We weren’t bothered by it. We think it’s a waste of time, but everyone has the right to a hobby.” Sharon is aiming for a government vote ratifying his withdrawal plan in principle. The plan calls for evacuation of all the settlements in Gaza and four in the northern West Bank. The prime minister clarified to ministers he met Monday that the withdrawal would take place in four stages, but only after an approval in principle of the overall plan. Each stage will be brought to the government for approval before execution. Sharon’s office rejects ideas raised by some ministers to avoid approval in principle of the plan and to make do with an announcement that the government „takes note” of the Sharon plan and approves the first stage, which would remove Netzarim, Morag and Kfar Darom from Gaza. According to sources in Sharon’s office, such a proposal would mean the Americans would not follow through on delivery of what they promised and in any case, that would not prevent the parties on the right from quitting the government. The Israel Defense Forces is also opposed to staged withdrawal. „The possibility of getting a majority is not the only consideration. It’s easy to get a majority to vote in favor of expelling Arafat but it’s not brought to a vote,” a source pointed out. Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon will be handing out a copy of the disengagement plan to the ministers on Thursday, the day after the Shavuot holiday. BPI.