Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Egypt balks

Egypt says "no" to policing the Gaza strip following an Israeli withdrawl:

Egypt, which has been trying for years like a good neighbor to stop the Israelis and Palestinians next door from squabbling, is upset by the sudden prospect of becoming part of the dispute.

President Hosni Mubarak, in an interview with the French daily Le Figaro over the weekend, sharply rejected the possibility that Egypt would assume any responsibility for security in the Gaza Strip after Israel completes its planned withdrawal.

"It's a trap, because we would find ourselves in a situation of confrontation with the Palestinians," he said. "And if there were problems, we could even find ourselves in conflict with the Israelis."

Israel has not asked Egypt to send forces into the Gaza Strip itself but expects it to stop arms smuggling into the strip from Egyptian territory and to use its influence to prevent Gaza from descending into chaos.

But there is some confusion as to whether Israel wanted them to police it:

Israeli military leaders, upset by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to stage a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, had assumed that he exempted from that move the "Philadelphia axis," a narrow buffer separating Gaza from Egyptian territory.

Mr. Sharon, however, has recently indicated that he intends to withdraw from there as well in order to detach completely from the Gaza Strip.

This would leave the border open to the influx of armaments, including rockets capable of hitting Israeli cities, unless Egypt seals off its side.

Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner told Agence France Press there was a "misunderstanding" if Mr. Mubarak thought that Israel wanted Egypt to take over responsibility for security in Gaza.

"It is not the case at all," he said. "If there were to be a role for Egypt it would only" be to control the Philadelphia axis.


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