Israel and Egypt concluded three days of negotiations over a border dispute today and said they had "narrowed" their differences and agreed to continue discussions on the issue.
The negotiations centered on a four-acre strip of land at Taba, south of the Israeli city of Elat, which is controlled by Israel but claimed by both countries. The talks, conducted by low-level delegations at a hotel in Beersheba, Israel, attempted to resolve an issue concerning interim security arrangements in Taba before the overall question of sovereignty is settled.
At the end of today's talks, Ehud Gol, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said differences on the interim issue remained but that enough progress had been made to justify additional meetings. No date or place was announced.
The main issue in the current talks was the role and function of the Multinational Force and Observers, which is stationed in the Sinai Peninsula to monitor compliance with the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, in Taba and 14 other disputed border points. Taba, a sandy strip of beach on the Gulf of Aqaba, is the largest and most important of the disputed areas, the site of an Israeli-owned luxury hotel built before the peace treaty was signed and opened afterwards.
Egypt has insisted that the multinational force should take over security duties at Taba, replacing the Israeli Border Police. Israel says it does not object to the multinational force acting as observers, but that police and security functions should remain in the hands of Israel.
Gol said that the two sides prepared a draft statement to be submitted to their governments setting out points on which there was agreement and issues that remain in dispute. The content of the draft statement was not made public.
Before the talks ended, there was speculation here that a new round of negotiations would be held in Ismailia, Egypt, before Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's scheduled trip to Washington in March.
Earlier, there was a minor flap here that illustrated the differences over foreign policy issues within Israel's national unity government.
In a television interview last night, Nimrod Novick, a top adviser to Prime Minister Shimon Peres and at the Beersheba talks as an observer, said Peres had been forced to intervene in the talks to resolve differences in the Israeli delegation.
This was denied by spokesmen for the Foreign Ministry, which is headed by Peres' political rival from the Likud bloc, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Foreign Ministry Director General David Kimche was sent to Beersheba today in what was seen as an attempt to counterbalance the presence of Novick.
Peres has expressed eagerness to resolve the Taba dispute and indicated he views it as a minor issue that stands in the way of improved Egyptian-Israeli relations. Shamir and the Likud, however, have said Israel should not make concessions on the issue.