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Friday, January 9, 2009

EU diplomats: No truce because Egypt won't allow foreign troops on Gaza border

Make of this what you will. The bottom line:
"The truce talks are going nowhere at the moment," said a senior European diplomat involved in the effort. "There is a growing sense that the Egyptian-French plan is not going to work."

Last update - 16:33 09/01/2009    
EU diplomats: Egypt's refusal to station foreign troops on Gaza border holding up truce
By Assaf Uni, Haaretz Correspondent, and Reuters
Egyptian efforts to broker a Gaza ceasefire appeared on Friday to have to run into trouble because of disagreements with Israel over how to secure the border to prevent Hamas from rearming, diplomats said.
Israeli and European diplomats, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said Egypt had objections to proposals for foreign forces deploying on the Egyptian side of its 15-km (9-mile) border with the Gaza Strip.
Instead of foreign troops, Cairo told Israel and the European Union, it was prepared to accept only increased international technical assistance to help its own forces combat arms smuggling through tunnels dug across the border. Israel is demanding the tunnel traffic end as part of a ceasefire deal.
"The truce talks are going nowhere at the moment," said a senior European diplomat involved in the effort. "There is a growing sense that the Egyptian-French plan is not going to work."
Jerusalem has said it will not agree to a ceasefire unless it contains regional and international commitments that will prevent Hamas from smuggling rockets into the Gaza Strip that could strike deeper into Israeli territory.
Hamas has demanded that any truce require Israel to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip and halt cross-border incursions.
That plan, announced by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after talks on Tuesday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, called for an immediate cease-fire and for subsequent talks on securing Gaza's border and reopening its border crossings.
Following talks in Cairo on Thursday with top Defense Ministry official, Amos Gilad, Israeli and European diplomats described the gap with Egypt over securing the border as wide.
"They (the Egyptians) told us they won't agree to a force on their side" of the border, known by Israel as the Philadelphi corridor, a senior Israeli official said.
"Egypt would accept far more technical assistance," the official said, but added that Israel was deeply sceptical that would be sufficient. Egyptian officials were not available for comment.
Diplomats said an international deployment on the Palestinian side of the border was unlikely because of objections from Hamas, which has yet to take a formal position on Cairo's ceasefire blueprint.
Israeli officials said their Egyptian counterparts were skeptical Hamas would accept it. Hamas, which is seeking an end to Israel's blockade on the territory, had likewise rejected the presence of international forces.
European diplomats said NATO member Turkey was one of the few countries that appeared willing to send contingents to the border if an agreement between Egypt and Israel can be reached.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has played down the need for ground forces, saying technology was the key. The bloc preferred to send "money and technology" to Egypt as part of any border mission, a senior diplomat said.
Relevant equipment may include sonar devices for picking up evidence of tunnelling and other means of geological detection.
Israel's 14-day-old assault on the Gaza Strip has included several air force sorties in which "bunker buster" bombs were dropped along Gaza's border with Egypt. The bombs send out shockwaves designed to collapse the secret passages.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told Haaretz he is not very optimistic about the possibility for an agreement that would bring an end to the fighting.
"First of all, the Egyptians would have to accept this plan," he said.
"We cannot decide about an EU force without the consent of the Egyptians. This is nonsense. President Mubarak was quite clear in his position against such a force. We are trying to find a solution, with a clear view of respecting Egyptian sovereignty," he added.
The longer the military operation goes on, the more Israel loses in terms of European public opinion, Schwarzenberg said in an interview to Haaretz.
The Czech Republic currently holds the rotating European Union Presidency.
"I do think that each hour Israel is continuing its military operation it loses in the public opinion in Europe and this is a process which is going on very fast and endangers the friendly government around Israel and undermines the position of president Abbas. I think we have to achieve a cease fire, to achieve a settlement, today and not tomorrow," said Schwarzenberg.
The Czech minister headed a mission by the Foreign Ministers of the European troika to the region earlier this week.

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