Israeli troops ready to roll out of Gaza
JERUSALEM: Egypt began deploying guards along its border with the Gaza Strip on Saturday as Israeli troops prepared to withdraw from occupied territory that will become a testing ground for Palestinian statehood.
The pullout, ending a 38-year-old military presence, could begin as early as Sunday, pending an Israeli cabinet vote on whether to destroy 25 synagogues still standing in Gaza’s 21 demolished Jewish settlements.
“Limited forces from the border guards began to take their positions on the border with Gaza,” said an Egyptian security source in north Sinai. He gave no numbers and said the deployment would go ahead in stages.
Egyptian and Israeli generals signed an agreement on Sept 1 to allow the deployment of 750 Egyptian border guards along the 12-km (7-mile) stretch, which is known by the names Salaheddin Corridor or Philadelphi Road.
Israel hopes the Egyptian force will be able to curb weapons smuggling by Palestinian militants who have dug tunnels under the frontier.
The Israeli army blew up its last military posts in the Gaza Strip on Friday. Troops were waiting in and near their armoured vehicles for the green light to roll into Israel.
UN mediators hope the withdrawal under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to disengage from conflict with the Palestinians will serve as a catalyst for renewed peacemaking.
But Palestinians are watching with a mixture of joy and scepticism. They fear Israel is trading tiny Gaza for a permanent hold on much larger swathes of the occupied West Bank where 245,000 settlers live. reuters