JERUSALEM (Dec. 26)
Israel is prepared to allow an Egyptian force to remain of the east bank of the Suez Canal as part of a dis-engagement agreement but only if such force is reduced in size and strength to a point where it could not present a military threat to Israel, sources here said today. This view emerged as senior Israeli and Egyptian military officers met in Geneva late today to resume the disengagement talks that were stalemated last month at Kilometer 101 on the Suez-Cairo road.
The sources believed that the size and strength of the Egyptian force would be the nub of the Geneva disengagement talks and predicted that the Egyptians would eventually agree to the Israeli compromise despite statements by officials in Cairo today that Egypt was determined to pull back neither men nor equipment from the east bank.
According to the sources, the Egyptians were staking an early bargaining position from which they could retreat at a later stage. They said the Egyptians will eventually realize that Israel will not pull back from the west bank of the canal as long as an Egyptian force of aggressive capabilities remains on the east bank. The sources do not, however, expect quick progress at the Geneva disengagement talks. They believe nothing substantive will be accomplished until after the Israeli elections.
It was reported, meanwhile, that Egyptian Foreign Minister Ismail Fahmy, who is still in Geneva, told reporters there today that Britain and France could participate in a peace-keeping force that will be formed once there is a final Middle East peace settlement. He said that Egypt had wanted those two countries to participate in the Geneva peace conference that opened last Friday but their absence was “because of circumstances that were beyond us.”
Israel’s two negotiators at the Geneva disengagement talks, Gen. Mordechai Gur and Col. Dov.Sion, left for Geneva earlier in the day. They refused to answer reporters’ questions at the airport.