sraeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said today that Egypt has agreed to allow Israel to dismantle and remove equipment in the Sinai Peninsula after the scheduled April 25 withdrawal deadline because of threatened clashes with militant Jewish settlers.
Sharon, who is in Cairo negotiating final details of the Sinai withdrawal, told Israeli correspondents there that a formal agreement has not been reached on the dismantling request but that the Egyptians said they had no objection in principle. Earlier, Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamel Hassan Ali had said that after April 25, no Israelis would remain in the Sinai, indicating that Egypt expected all equipment to be removed by then.
[Ali, speaking to reporters in Cairo, did not discuss specific issues dealt with in his talks with Sharon but said, "We have solved all the problems. Actually there were no problems, only some matters that had to be discussed at a higher level," Associated Press reported.]
Attempts by Israeli authorities to dismantle greenhouses and other equipment at agricultural settlements in northern Sinai have been blocked by militant settlers of the "Stop the Sinai Withdrawal" movement, who have moved squatters into settlements and have begun planting crops in a campaign to force Israel to suspend the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
Also, settlers at Yamit, a resort town, have prevented the government from dismantling and moving to the Negev Desert a war memorial to Israeli soldiers who died in northern Sinai in the 1967 war.
Sharon, in an interview broadcast on Israeli Army radio here, also said Egypt has no objection to the positioning of members of the U.S.-sponsored multinational peace-keeping force on two small, strategically situated islands in the Tiran Straits at the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, which gives Israeli vessels access to the Red Sea.
Tiran and Snapir--uninhabited islands between the Sinai and the Saudi Arabian coast--were turned over to Egypt by Saudi Arabia in 1953. There has been concern in the Israeli government that Saudi Arabia may reassume control of them after April 25 and use them to blockade the gulf.
Sharon said the Egyptians agreed that the islands are within a zone to be controlled by the multinational force and that Egypt has no objections to a peace-keeping contingent controlling them. Details of that agreement are yet to be worked out, he said.
[Under the peace treaty, the multinational force is obligated to ensure freedom of navagation in the Tiran Straits. Questions have been raised in Washington as to the U.S. position on stationing troops on the islands, over which Saudi Arabia technically maintains sovereignty, and their potential for provoking a snag in the withdrawal. The State Department has not responded to reporters' queries. One administration official said that Sharon may have "overstated" Egypt's agreement on the issue but cautioned that the United States was awaiting details of the Cairo meeting.]
Sharon said he discussed with Ali the problem of the new boundary splitting the Sinai town of Rafah and the severe economic and social dislocation that would result.
Sharon said there was no agreement on Rafah, but the matter was referred to a military committee. He said he was opposed to the dividing of families and the transfer of populations that would result from adherence to the pre-1967 boundary that runs through Rafah.
[Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir told an Israeli parliamentary committee that that a new Egyptian demand that any Palestinian autonomy agreement be acceptable to the Palestinians decreased prospects for an agreement on the issue before April 25, Associated Press said.]