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Egyptian Defense Minister Not Impressed by Security Value of Settlements on the West Bank

Gen. Kamal Hassan Ali, the Defense Minister of Egypt, said today that “as a military man” he was not impressed by the security value of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. He made that remark at an impromptu press conference following a helicopter tour of the region. If his host, Defense Minister Ezer Weizman was embarrassed, he rose to the occasion by observing that history is filled with generals who differ in their views and conceptions of how to solve specific problems.

On the other hand, Weizman added, “I do hope the tour has demonstrated the fact that Israel is very narrow and the distances from countries that do not as yet seek peace and have rather large forces deployed, are rather short.”

Weizman introduced Hassan Ali to reporters at the small heliport near Tel Aviv where the Air Force helicopters that carried the Egyptian party and their Israeli hosts landed. Hassan Ali said he had asked for the tour. “As a military man I could not enter into any discussion unless I have knowledge of the problem and therefore I asked the Israeli Defense Minister for this trip and it was very fruitful for me personally,” he said.

He added: “I see, as a military man, that the settlements do not add to such a powerful country any more strength. This is my opinion. I do not speak of the legal aspects of the problem. There are many who can speak better about this. But from a military point of view, the settlements add nothing to a country which is one of the strongest in the region.”

SAYS SETTLEMENTS ARE PROVOCATIVE MOVE

The Egyptian minister noted that “Now we are discussing peace and on the basis of peace one has to change his mind. We cannot go on talking about preparing a military operation and at the same time talk about peace. The establishment of settlements in these places are a provocative move against the Arabs of the West Bank.” He added, “I think that all sides to the peace negotiations can reach solutions though there are those who create problems and do not provide solutions. Therefore, we have to stop creating problems and start to solve those that exist.”

Weizman replied, “I will definitely agree with you on one thing. We have gone so far that it would be absolutely unheard of, I would say almost bordering on stupidity, not to find a solution to the problems we have presented today. I am happy we went on this tour. What will not change is the terrain. I do hope opinions will change, on both sides.”

The aerial tour began this morning and ended late in the afternoon. It covered the Judaea and Samaria regions of the West Bank and west and East Jerusalem. With the aid of maps and binoculars, the Egyptians were able to study the areas as their Israeli hosts explained various matters. At Hassan Ali’s request, the tour included the Dead Sea region. The helicopters landed briefly at several points, one near the Elkana settlement in Samaria where the Egyptians asked many questions.

Hassan Ali was guest of honor at a dinner tended by the Haifa municipality tonight and viewed the city from the top of Mt. Carmel. The Egyptian Defense Minister, who arrived yesterday, will end his visit tomorrow afternoon.

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