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Israel Wants Egyptian Forces out of Sinai

RIA Novosti

15:12 21/08/2012 TEL AVIV, August 21 (RIA Novosti) - Israel has asked Egypt to remove its tanks from the Sinai Peninsula because their continued presence violates the peace agreement between the two countries, Israel's Maariv daily reported on Tuesday.

The message was sent via the White House because Israeli ties with Egypt have become strained in recent months, the paper said. The warning came as Egypt continues to increase its military presence, without coordination with Israel.

The Egyptian army massed troops in the Sinai Peninsula after at least 16 Egyptian police officers were killed and others wounded in a surprise August 5 armed attack on a police station in north Sinai on the border between Egypt and Israel.

Cairo has said it would soon deploy tanks, aircraft and rocket launchers in its bid to root terrorist elements out of the peninsula, Reuters reported on Monday, citing an Egyptian security source.

The attack also gave Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi a rare opportunity to take control of the army after sacking several high-ranking officials including the country's military and intelligence chiefs as well as the governor of North Sinai.

Cairo's military presence in the peninsula would be the first Egyptian military operation in the Sinai since the peace treaty with Israel in 1979, Al Jazeera reported.

The 1979 peace treaty with Israel limits Egypt's military presence in the area. The treaty also requires that any sort of military operation inside the Sinai should be carried out in cooperation with the Israelis.

In the wake of the attacks, Israel said it gave Cairo the go-ahead to deploy helicopters in Sinai to restore security in the lawless peninsula and close down tunnels used to smuggle contraband and weapons into the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

However, the ongoing Egyptian military buildup in an area Israel considers a strategic buffer zone has sparked concerns in Israel that Egypt may use its anti-terrorist operation as a way of retaining its military strength in Sinai.

"More than enough soldiers (12 battalions), military equipment and Egyptian police are now concentrated in the Sinai to deal with terrorism," Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in an interview with Israel’s First Radio. “It [now] requires the political will of the leadership of the country and specific actions from the military command. One of the sections of the Camp David agreements says that any changes - including in the military protocol - can only be made by mutual consent. Israel is not prepared to give such consent.”

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