Asharq Al-Awsat and Agencies – Egyptian efforts to broker a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip appeared bogged down on Friday 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 Cairo raised objections to proposals for foreign forces to deploy on the Egyptian side of its 14.5-km (9-mile) border with the Gaza Strip.
Instead of foreign troops, Egypt told Israel and the European Union it was prepared to accept increased international technical assistance to help its own forces combat arms smuggling through tunnels dug across the border.
Israel, in turn, has reservations about letting Egypt sharply expand ts security presence at the border with Gaza because that might require reopening their 1979 peace treaty.
Israel 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 the Jewish state.
Israel dismissed Thursday’s U.N. Security Council resolution demanding an “immediate and durable” ceasefire as “unworkable”.
Hamas has demanded that any truce require Israel to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip and halt cross-border incursions. “There is no agreement on what to do at the border to tighten security and it’s going to take some time,” a senior Israeli official said, describing the gaps as “wide”.
A senior European diplomat said: “The truce talks are going nowhere at the moment. There is a growing sense that the Egyptian-French plan is not going to work.”
That plan, announced by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
after talks on Tuesday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy,
called for an immediate ceasefire and for subsequent talks on
securing Gaza’s border and reopening its border crossings.
Following talks in Cairo on Thursday with Israeli defence official Amos Gilad, Israeli and European diplomats said the sides were at odds over whether foreign troops or Egyptian troops should be deployed.
“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.
Another senior Israeli official said letting Egypt deploy more border guards, including elite special forces, was problematic because the treaty between the states set caps.
“Once you open the contract, it’s open. Then everything is negotiable,” the official said.
Egyptian officials were not available for comment. A European diplomat suggested Israel was merely playing for time to continue its offensive, which has killed at least 784 Palestinians in 14 days.
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 sceptical 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.
Palestinian factions in Damascus described the joint Egyptian–French ceasefire initiative as “an invalid solution” that aims to “crush the resistance.”
Sources within the faction revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that they had rejected this initiative because it contained “traps like a temporary or permanent truce, and national reconciliation, and it has linked all of these issues to a halt to [Israeli] aggression, lifting the blockade, and [Israeli] withdrawal.”
Ali Larijani, Iran’s parliament speaker told reporters in Beirut after consultations with the Palestinian faction in Damascus that the initiatives put forward by countries in the Middle East and Europe to end the conflict in Gaza is like “honey injected with poison,” and that they do not protect the rights of the Palestinians.
In Cairo, a Hamas official revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the movement “is studying initiatives…in the light of four considerations; an immediate halt to [Israeli] aggression, the withdrawal of occupation forces from the Gaza Strip, the lifting of the blockade, and the opening of border crossings including Rafah.
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.
European Union 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 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.