CAIRO, Egypt – Egypt and Israel are close to an agreement putting more Egyptian forces on the border and sending Egyptian military experts to help the Palestinians keep order in the Gaza Strip (search) as Israel withdraws from the territory, Israeli and Egyptian officials said Monday.
Despite differences that have kept an Egyptian ambassador out of Israel for more than three years, Egypt and Israel are intensifying security cooperation as Israel prepares to remove Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip and return the volatile area to Palestinian control.
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom (search) said the two countries have been talking for a few months about finding ways to increase the Egyptian security presence at the border. "We're now very close to implement this understanding between Israel and Egypt," Shalom said.
The agreement would put an additional 100 Egyptian police on the Egyptian side of the border with Gaza, Amira Aron, a ministry official traveling with Shalom, told The Associated Press.
Egypt would also send 200 military experts to Gaza to help Palestinians organize their security apparatus, she said.
Egyptian officials familiar with the talks said discussions centered on shifting 1,000 border guards already in the Sinai peninsula (search) north, closer to the border.
The Egyptians also want an international presence in Gaza, the nature of which is under discussion, the officials said on condition of anonymity.
Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman would go to Ramallah in a few days to discuss the details with the Palestinians, they said.
The Israeli Cabinet on Sunday approved Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's (search) plan to pull all 21 settlements out of Gaza by the end of 2005. If Israeli forces leave Gaza, Israel is worried lax control at the border would allow an easy flow of illicit weapons to Palestinian militants. Egypt is concerned there could be a spillover of unrest onto its soil without the Israelis present.
Shalom met separately Monday with President Hosni Mubarak (search), the Egyptian president's top political adviser, Osama El-Baz, and with Suleiman.
El-Baz and Shalom also announced the two nations were setting up committees to improve Israeli-Egyptian cooperation.
"It's very important these days to be closely in touch," El-Baz told reporters. Committees to handle a variety of issues, he said, "will result in better understanding for the purpose of saving the peace process."
Shalom and El-Baz said there won't be a need to amend the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace agreement to allow for more Egyptian border security. The treaty limits the number of soldiers and types of military equipment each side can keep near the border, but allows for changes if both sides agree.
Shalom commended Egypt for "a strategic decision to have better relations with Israel. ... I'm happy that we have decided today to establish a bilateral committee that will be engaged in many issues."
Egypt withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv shortly after intense Palestinian-Israeli clashes erupted in late 2000, accusing Israel of unnecessarily harsh measures against the Palestinians.
Egypt's government, which has come under criticism from an Egyptian and Arab public frustrated by violence in the Palestinian areas, has taken pains to stress its steps are not meant to aid Israel.
"We have a certain vision about the role that Egypt could take to improve the situation so there would be stability in the Palestinian territories, so things could move toward implementation of the road map (for peace). That's what we want — we don't want to modify the map or the treaty," El-Baz said.
El-Baz repeatedly referred to the "road map," an internationally backed peace plan that envisions creation of a Palestinian state by next year. Shalom didn't mention it.