Egypt, Israel near deal on Philadelphi deployment

Israel and Egypt are on the verge of concluding an agreement that will see Egyptian border guards deployed opposite the Philadelphi route in Rafah. Following a meeting Sunday between the head of the Defense Ministry’s political-security division, Amos Gilad, and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, Israeli officials said that the agreement would be signed „very shortly.” The main sticking point that remains to be resolved pertains to Israel’s demand that Egypt assume responsibility for preventing arms smuggling along the Philadelphi route after the Israel Defense Forces leaves the area. „We want the issue of who bears responsibility for the Philadelphi route after we leave to be clear, and explicitly written,” the Israeli officials said. Meanwhile, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who has received a draft copy of the agreement for his perusal, is expected to advise that it not be presented to the Knesset for its approval. Mazuz is preparing an opinion that holds that the issue is solely a military protocol, and does not involve an amendment to the Israel-Egypt peace treaty. As such, the agreement does not require parliamentary approval. Justice Ministry officials will meet again Monday to discuss the agreement’s clauses. MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, is demanding that the agreement be presented to the legislature for its approval. Steinitz sees much danger in the erosion of the demilitarization arrangements included in the peace treaty with Egypt and has spent the last few months recruiting support for his position from politicians on both the left and the right. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants the IDF out of the Philadelphi route to complete the evacuation of the Gaza Strip under the disengagement plan and to free Israel of responsibility for the area. Israel demanded that Egypt take against arms smuggling from Sinai, and the Egyptians responded by offering to deploy their border guards there. The military appendix to the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty forbids deploying soldiers in the area of the border, where only civilian police may patrol. As a result, talks on changes to the security arrangements were required. Israel opposed making changes to the peace treaty to avoid setting a precedent, and thus the agreement in the works was defined as a military protocol and will be signed by an IDF major general and an Egyptian general. Negotiations on the agreement have been underway between Gilad and Suleiman for a few months, with the sides agreeing that Egypt will deploy 750 border guards opposite the Philadelphi route, from the Mediterranean Sea and through to the Israel-Egypt-Gaza border point. An agreement has also been reached on the equipment and arms the Egyptian forces will carry. Israel rejected Egypt’s demand to deploy another 3,000 troops along the border in Sinai, between Rafah and Eilat. The Egyptians waived this demand in return for Israel’s agreeing that a future withdrawal of the Egyptian troops from the area of the Philadelphia route requires the consent of both sides. Israel also rejected an Egyptian proposal to set up a military jetty in El Arish, northern Sinai. Israel argued that such a move would constitute a substantial amendment to the peace treaty. Israel transferred a draft of the agreement to the Egyptians last month, and Gilad left Sunday to meet with Suleiman and hear his response. „The ball is now in Egypt’s court,” Israeli political sources said Sunday night. BPI-info