Tension rises: Israel slams Egypt PM Sharaf on peace accords statement

Dina Ezzat, Friday 16 Sep 2011

Egyptian officials confirm to Ahram Online that Yasser Reda, Egypt's ambassador in Tel Aviv, was summoned Friday by the Israeli foreign ministry, one day after three Israeli diplomats left Cairo

Only one diplomat left in Israeli embassy in Cairo, says Egyptian official. Three others left the country on Thursday.(Photo Reuters)

Tension renewed between Egypt and Israel, as the latter summoned the Egyptian ambassador in Tel Aviv.

Official Egyptian sources have confirmed what was reported earlier by AFP: that the Israeli foreign ministry summoned the Egyptian ambassador in Tel Aviv, Yasser Reda.

One source told Ahram Online that Israel was protesting a press statement made yesterday by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf in which he said that the text of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel was not sacred.

Today the Israeli foreign ministry met with Reda for 30 minutes to clarify that any amendments to the treatment are "not on the cards", according to Israeli news sources.

The meeting was headed by the foreign ministry's director general Rafi Barack, who demanded an explanation for Sharaf's statement as well as making it clear to Reda that "from Israel's perspective, there is no intention whatsoever to reopen the peace treaty and such a step cannot be taken unilaterally."

Speaking to Turkish TV at the end of a three-day visit to Egypt by the Turkish prime minister, Sharaf said that the treaty "which is no holy text" could be subject to discussion and possible amendment in whichever way might better serve the cause of regional peace.

The prime minister, however, stopped short of saying that any actual steps are currently underway to amend the treaty – although he referred to considerable public anticipation from political forces in this regard.

Egyptian political forces and parties have been demanding an amendment of the security arrangement stipulated in the treaty, which imposes huge limitations on the presence of Egyptian troops and armament in Sinai.

The peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, which allowed Egypt to retrieve Sinai and exercise sovereignty over it, divides the peninsula which had been occupied by Israel in 1967 into areas A, B and C. Area C is the closet to Israeli borders and the peace treaty allows only a limited police presence in that area.

This arrangement was approved by the late president Anwar Sadat despite protests from and the resignation of some of his closet political advisors.

During the past few years, including the last five years of the rule of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt reached an agreement with Israel to upscale its personnel and armament presence in area C to prevent the smuggling of militants and arms from Egypt into the Israel-besieged Gaza and vice versa.

But the highest degree of upscaling was not conducted until last month, following a resistance operation against Israeli military targets in Eilat and the subsequent Israeli attack on Gaza which included a violation of Egyptian borders and the killing of six Egyptian border guard by Israeli fire.

The killing of Egyptian troops prompted massive public anger and demands for the Egyptian authorities to summon Egypt's ambassador from Tel Aviv and to expel the Israeli ambassador from Cairo.

Neither demands have been accommodated by the authorities, which are keen to stabilize relations with Israel. "We are not rocking the boat with Israel and we have so many security concerns, in fact huge security concerns, on our borders with Libya [to the west] and with Sudan [to the South]," said one official speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Israeli summoning of the ambassador comes less than 24 hour after Israel called back three of the four diplomats left in its embassy.

Others including the ambassador had left on an American plane late last Friday in the wake of angry demonstrations outside the Israeli embassy in Giza and a subsequent breaking into an apartment house annexed to the embassy.

An official source said Cairo was not notified of the reason that prompted the three diplomats to fly out. However, he said, that the Israeli embassy in Cairo "is still operating and is not fully closed".

Yesterday Israel closed down its embassy in Amman, the other Arab country with a peace treaty with Israel, in the wake of a call for wide demonstrations to expel the Israeli ambassador in Jordan.

Jordan and Israel signed their peace treaty in 1994, three years after the launch of a regional peace process in Madrid in 1991 and one year after Israel signed the Oslo Accords with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation under its late chief Yasser Arafat.

Israeli Arab peace relations have never been consented to by Arab public opinion despite the expanding economic and security cooperation.

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