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Egyptians seek to boost military presence in Rafah

Posted by vmsalama on January 15, 2006

By Vivian Salama
Daily Star Egypt Staff
CAIRO:  Egyptian officials are reportedly seeking to send more troops to the Sinai.  Talks come following a security breech at the Gaza-Egypt border crossing last month when Palestinians bulldozed through the security wall, killing two Egyptian border police. 


Under the Gaza disengagement agreement signed last August, it was agreed that Egypt would send 750 troops to Rafah, thereby permitting Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to withdraw from the Philadelphi Route.  The recent chaos that ensued along the border crossing, Egypt has taken a stand on the matter, saying 750 troops is insufficient to properly secure the 14 kilometer crossing, and is now looking to expand the patrolling ground from Karem Shalom to Taba.
            Under the Camp David Accord, Sinai is divided into three zones – A, B and C.  Each zone has its own restriction on Egyptian military presence.  Prior to the disengagement agreement, only border police were allowed in Zone B, along the Israeli border.  Military presence was strictly forbidden.  Zone A only allows for police presence, whereas in Zone C, which includes the Suez Canal, 22,000 soldiers are permitted.
            “The Egyptians are now saying that if Israel is insistent that we are to secure the border and prevent terrorists, then they must agree to change the restrictions of the Camp David Accord, because it restricts the number of Egyptian soldiers in Sinai at all,” says Emad Gad, senior researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies and head of the organization Arabs Against Discrimination.  The Egyptians want to change this so to allow Egyptian soldiers.  Camp David prohibits it.  
The disengagement plan drew its share of skeptics who felt Egypt is incapable of adequately securing the border crossing, particularly from the smuggling of weapons and terrorist propaganda.  It has long been believed that tunnels for smuggling still exist underneath the Philadelphi Route connecting the Palestinian and Egyptian sides of Rafah. 
The recent victory of Hamas in the Palestinian parliamentary election is drawing equal concerns for both sides as the group, famed for its militant activity, climbs the ranks of governance.  President Hosni Mubarak met with a Hamas delegation earlier this week in an attempt to broker an understanding between the Israelis and new Palestinian government.  Still, it is Israel Egypt must systemize with, and experts agree the question of boosting Egypt’s military presence along the Gaza border is off of Israel’s radar until after their general elections at the end of March.  
            “They will not allow it,” says Gad.  “But if Egypt is to efficiently protect its borders, than 750 soldiers is nothing.  Of course, this goes against the wishes of the Israelis and I think it’s safe to say they will not even take this request into consideration.  Even if they did, the move would require a lengthy new protocol before it can happen.”

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