Egypt explains Sinai position

2012-08-26 12:53
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Cairo - In the first direct contact with his Israeli counterpart since taking office, Egypt's new defence minister defended his country's increased military presence in the Sinai Peninsula, saying it is needed to fight terrorism and assuring him it is only temporary, Egyptian officials said on Saturday.

The officials - one from Egyptian intelligence and another from the military - said Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi called Ehud Barak on Thursday in their first conversation since el-Sissi became defence minister earlier this month. The phone call followed grumbling from Israeli officials about not being consulted before Egypt's leaders deployed tanks to the Sinai Peninsula, the strip of Egyptian land that borders Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli defence ministry refused comment. An Israeli defence official said no conversation took place between el-Sissi and Barak. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the extreme sensitivity of the mater.

Under the 1979 peace accord between the two countries, Egypt is allowed to have only lightly-armed policemen in the zone along the border with Israel. The treaty stipulates that significant military moves by Egypt must be coordinated with Israel.

Annoyed

Egypt used attack helicopters and armored personnel carriers in co-ordination with Israel to go after militants suspected of being behind the  killing of 16 Egyptian soldiers in Sinai on 5 August.

Later, however, Egypt deployed US-made M60 tanks to Sinai without consulting with Israel, which drew objections from the Israel despite the fact that it has long encouraged Cairo to crack down on militants in Sinai.

Israel does not view the Egyptian military buildup there as a strategic threat. The problem, Israeli officials said, is with Egypt setting a precedent by moving troops to Sinai without coordinating the move with Israel first.

Israeli officials stressed that significant military moves by Egypt must be run by Israel first, giving it a veto of sorts over Egyptian security strategy.

Israel has the most powerful military in the Middle East, and Egypt's new military deployment in Sinai is not viewed as a threat. In addition, the two nations have been at peace for decades and - despite some turbulence in their relations in the wake of Egypt's uprising last year - remain in close contact regarding security matters.

Israel has itself been a target of Islamic militants based in Sinai in recent months and wants to see Egypt's security forces reign in the lawlessness that has swept across the desert peninsula since longtime President Hosni Mubarak was toppled and his powerful police force disappeared from the streets.

In his phone call with Barak on Thursday, el-Sissi also assured the Israeli that Egypt respects the nations' peace treaty, the intelligence and military officials said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of relations between Egypt and Israel at this time.

In Egypt, the president's spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.

Israel-Egypt relations have grown increasingly complicated since the June election of President Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist and member of the Muslim Brotherhood who is Egypt's first freely elected civilian leader.

- AP
Read more on:    egypt  |  north africa
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