Egypt opposes int’l force on s. border

130.jpgCairo vehemently objects to stationing international forces along its border with the Gaza Strip, an idea recently floated in Jerusalem, the head of the Egyptian security team in the Gaza Strip said on Saturday. Burhan Hammad, who has been mediating between Hamas and Fatah for the past year, described the talk about an international force as “nonsense.”

Egypt, he said, can’t accept the presence of such a force along its border with the Gaza Strip. “Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel,” he said. “There is no need for an international force and Egypt won’t accept the idea.”

Both Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and officials in the National Security Council have raised the idea over the last few weeks, but government officials said this was within the framework of numerous ideas that have been discussed to battle the arms smuggling from Sinai into Gaza, and not as an operative program that the government was actively pushing.

EU officials have said they would only consider a request to participate in such a force if it came from both sides.

Hammad admitted the Palestinians were continuing to dig tunnels under the Egyptian-Gaza border.

“It’s true that there are tunnels there,” he said. “We will deal with them at the appropriate time because they are being used to smuggle drugs.”

In recent weeks, Livni and IDF officials have discussed with the Egyptians building a moat or other physical barrier along the border to make tunneling more difficult. The Egyptians said they would discuss the matter.

Livni is also placing the need to seal off the Philadelphi Corridor high on the agenda in her talks with world leaders, telling them keeping arms from entering Gaza was a critical pre-condition to restoring calm in the South, and that any cease-fire in the Gaza Strip would only be temporary unless the smuggling was stopped.

The number of Egyptian troops allowed into the area is limited by the Camp David peace accords; after disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Israel agreed to allow Egypt to introduce another 750 troops, beyond those permitted under the peace treaty, to better patrol the border.

Hammad revealed that his government had proposed the establishment of industrial zones on both sides of the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip to provide jobs for thousands of unemployed Palestinians.

Meanwhile, a top Hamas leader announced over the weekend that his movement was prepared to declare a one-year truce with Israel.

In an interview with the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, Musa Abu Marzuk, the No. 2 in Hamas’s Syria-based leadership, said: “We may agree to a one-year cease-fire. Both parties have to abide by it.”

Abu Marzuk was one of several senior Hamas leaders who were in Cairo over the past week for talks with Egyptian officials on ways to end Palestinian infighting and to reach a truce with Israel.

Abu Marzuk also said the ball was in Israel’s court regarding kidnapped IDF Cpl. Gilad Schalit.

He said Israel had been handed a list of names of Palestinian prisoners, but that “Israel’s response was disappointing, as if they don’t want to go ahead to close a deal. Therefore things stopped there.”

Government officials in Jerusalem said Saturday night there were no new developments regarding Schalit, and that everything was “stagnant” as a result of the situation in Gaza.

Abu Marzuk said a meeting between Hamas, Fatah and Egyptian officials would take place in two weeks. Fatah representatives held separate talks last week in Cairo with Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and others in an attempt to end fighting between Fatah and Hamas.

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press from Hamas’s political office in Syria, Muhammad Nazzal confirmed that the Islamist movement was considering another truce with Israel.

“Some private ideas were presented to Hamas [by Egyptian mediators] to reach a truce with Israel, and Hamas is about to undertake the suitable decision,” Nazal said.

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