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Egyptian Arms Freeway To Gaza Strip?

Israeli MKs: 'Draft Agreement Does Not Bar Egypt From Supplying Weapons & Explosives To Palestinians In Gaza Strip'

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz: 'Most of Gaza Settlers Will Leave Before August 17th Withdrawal Begins'

'Nine More AWOL IDF Soldiers May Be Armed'

Defense Minister Mofaz

In the Knesset Foreign affairs and Defense Committee, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz presented an up beat picture of Israeli plans for evacuating the Gaza Strip that is to being on August 17th. However, several MKs were shocked to hear that a proposed agreement with Egypt to block Palestinian arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip does not bar Cairo from supplying weapons to the Palestinians. IDF officers also briefed the committee on the upcoming disengagement and the investigation underway into murder of four Israeli Arabs by an IDF AWOL soldier.

'An Egyptian freeway of weapons and explosives to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip'. that's the shocked reaction of several Knesset members to a draft agreement between Israel and Egypt. It has to do with the planned Egyptian takeover of a narrow Israeli security zone, known as the Philadelfi Corridor, that separates Sinai from the Gaza Strip. The draft agreement spells out the role of the 750 Egyptian Border Guards who will move into the Philadelfi Corridor to block Palestinian arms smuggling. But oddly enough, it does not stipulate that Egypt is barred from supplying the Palestinians with weapons. When asked about this Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz replied that it was 'obvious'. In any case, it is not so obvious to Opposition leader Tommy Lapid of Shinui. Lapid warns this could lead to: 'The Palestinians building up the biggest arsenal in the Middle East inside the Gaza Strip'. The Shinui leader warned Mofaz if this is not clarified, he and his fourteen MKs will torpedo the deal when it is brought to a Knesset vote. The Israeli-Egyptian peace Treaty of 1979 demilitarized the Sinai peninsula from where the Egyptian army threatened Israel several times in the past. In the current negotiations, Cairo has been trying to exploit its anti-smuggling role in the Philadelfi Corridor to expand its military presence in Sinai. The Egyptians have been referring to the 'first stage' but Defense Minister Mofaz says Israel is determined that Sinai remain demilitarized.

Evacuation: Defense officials believe that despite the demonstrations, most of the Gaza Strip settlers will pack up and leave between August 15th and August 17th. Mofaz hopes the entire pullout from the settlements can be completed within two to four weeks. The IDF has until the end of the year to move out its bases and installations. There is an agreement in principle to demolish the settlers' homes and other buildings with the debris being transported to Israel. However, it is possible to recycle 80% of the buildings that will be transported for use in Egypt. The World Bank is involved in this aspect of the disengagement.Will the Palestinians open fire when the Israeli residents are being evacuated from the Gaza Strip settlements? IDF Brigadier General Yossi Kupperwasser told the committee the Palestinian Authority understands this is its big test. However, Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian leaders fear that radical splinter groups will open fire and that Prime minister Sharon will keep his vow to hit back hard. After a stray Qassam rocket killed a Palestinian boy, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah agreed to call off the shelling of Israeli settlements. On the ground, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are displaying reconciliation but behind the scenes they are both preparing for a possible confrontation over who controls Gaza after Israel's pullout. Hamas is demanding 'a say' when it comes to territory evacuated by Israel. Meanwhile, the terrorist organizations are moving their operations more to the West Bank. Yesterday's drive-by shooting that critically wounded an Israeli boy is an example. When Palestinian security knows in advance of attacks it will intervene, but it is not actively involved in an overall counter-terror campaign.

President Katzav visiting Shfaram

Shfaram Attack: Aden Natan-Zada, the IDF soldier who shot dead four Israeli Arabs Palestinian went AWOL no less than three times since being recruited last January; however only last time did he desert with his rifle. IDF Brigadier Gadi Shemni told the committee many questions are now being investigated. What is still of concern is some nine AWOL soldiers who may also be armed. State President Moshe Katzav made a condolence visit to the families of the four Arab victims in Shfaram today. In expressing his regret, President Katzav declared that Israeli Jews and Arabs are destined to live together and the authorities will make every effort to prevent any repetition of the Shfaram atrocity.

David Essing

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