Israli-egyptian Border is Open but Not for Tourists–yet

Israel’s travel industry went all out in promoting tours to Egypt in the aftermath of Sunday’s announcement by Premier Menachem Begin and President Anwar Sadat that the borders between the two countries are open “as of now.”

But the numerous travel agencies and tour wholesalers who ran enticing ads in newspapers may have taken the declaration at El Arish too literally or, at any rate, are premature. While the ads implied that travel between Israel and Egypt was almost immediately available, they carried in very small print, “subject to government approval.”

Interior Ministry officials indicated yesterday that considerable preparations were necessary before the borders could be open to the normal movement of civilians. “In fact, if is quite clear that the first to go will be government officials whose task will be to speed up the process of normalization between the two countries,” Interior Minister Yoset Burg told reporters. In Cairo, where Egyptian tour operators were also reportedly gearing up for the long anticipated two-way tourist travel, Prime Minister Mustapha Khalil told reporters that while officially the borders are open, in practical terms it will take some time before all bureaucratic problems are straightened out.

SELECTIVE TRAVEL EXPECTED INITIALLY

Nevertheless, Israeli travel agents had no trouble making telex contact with their Egyptian counterparts, ordering hotel rooms, guided tours, buses and even landing rights for charter planes.

It is believed that despite the ringing declaration of open borders, Israel will be selective in the immediate future as to who and how many of its citizens will be permitted to visit Egypt. There are two reasons: one is a desire to keep the Israeli profile low in Cairo, at least for the time being. The other is the serious shortage of hotel rooms in the Egyptian capital. Israel will issue permits for travel to Cairo only if the applicant furnishes proof that he or she has accommodations there.

An initial step to any mutual crossings of the border will be a visa agreement that must be negotiated between the two countries. it is understood that this will be one of the subjects Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan will discuss when he visits Cairo next Monday. As long as there are no diplomatic missions representing Israel and Egypt respectively, visas will have to be issued by the missions of third countries acting as proxy.

SCIENTIFIC COOPERATION GAINS

If tourism is delayed by several months, scientific cooperation between Israel and Egypt may be nearer at hand. Prof. Hassan Hamdi Ibrahim, vice president of Cairo University who accompanied Sadat to Beersheba Sunday, responded enthusiastically to the proposal by Yosef Tekoah, president of Ben Gurion University, that Israel and Egypt establish a $100 million fond to finance a decade of cooperation in desert research.

Meanwhile, it was learned that Deputy Premier Yigael Yadin, a world famous archaeologist, will visit Egypt beginning June 10 to explore Egyptian archaeological treasures from which he has been cut off for 30 years. Egyptian Defense Minister Kamal Hassan Ali will return Israeli Defense Minister Ezer Weizman’s visit to Egypt, by making a good-will visit to Israel shortly. He will be the First Egyptian minister to do so.

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