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Israel delays inking Philadelphi deployment deal with Egypt
Israel and Egypt have concluded the drafting of an agreement on the deployment of Egyptian border guards in the area of the Philadelphi route in Rafah.
The agreement, however, has yet to be presented to the cabinet and Knesset for their approval in light of an Israeli demand that Egypt undertake not to transfer arms and ammunition to the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip.
The agreement in its current form covers only the prevention of terror, smuggling and infiltrations in the area and does not deal with the handing over of arms to an official entity, such as the PA's security forces.
The demand that Egypt refrain from allowing arms through to the PA was raised during a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee at which MKs spoke of "holes in the Philadelphi agreement."
The defense establishment upheld the reservation and decided to ask Egypt for an appendix to the agreement in which Cairo would undertake not to transfer arms to the PA.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz discussed the matter with his Egyptian counterpart, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman a week ago. Talks on the issue have been underway ever since.
As far as Israel is concerned, the deployment of the Egyptian troops is a prerequisite for the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces' withdrawal from the Philadelphi route, which runs along the border between Gaza and Egypt, from the sea to the Kerem Shalom border crossing.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants the IDF to withdraw from the Philadelphi route so that Israel can shake off responsibility for the Strip. As long as the IDF controls the route, and the crossing from Gaza into Egypt, Israel will be seen to be responsible for the Strip. Mofaz assessed recently that the withdrawal from Philadelphi will be completed by the end of the year.
The agreement, entitled "Agreed arrangement regarding the deployment of a designated force of border guards along the border in the Rafah area," has been in the works for some 18 months.
It includes 83 clauses and fills some 20 pages that outline the obligations of the two states, the mission of the Egyptian force, and its composition, equipment and arms.
The preamble to the agreement notes that in keeping with the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, both sides recognize their responsibility to ensure that smuggling operations, infiltrations and acts of terror do not originate from their respective territories.
The sides also recognize the importance of making a comprehensive effort to combat terrorism, smuggling and infiltrations along the border.
The agreement defines the mission of the Egyptian force as "a campaign against terror, smuggling and infiltrations along the border," to prevent such illegal activities, secure the border and ensure stability and law enforcement. The Egyptian force does not have any military objectives.
Under the agreement, the Egyptian Border Guard Force will number 750 troops and administrative officials. This number will be boosted by 30 members of the Egyptian Navy, who will be entrusted with guarding the coastline. In keeping with Israeli demands, the naval supervision will be carried out 24 hours a day by means of three boats.
The Egyptian border guards will be equipped with armored personnel carriers, RPGs, assault rifles, light machine guns, jeeps and quad bikes. The force will not be allowed to erect fortifications, but only lookout posts and guard towers.
Sharon, Mofaz and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz are in favor of the deployment of the Egyptian border guards, with the prime minister slated to present the agreement to the cabinet and Knesset after it has been initialed. Jerusalem is now waiting for a solution to be found to the issue of the transfer of arms from Egypt to the PA.