TEL AVIV (Nov. 15)
A 600 square mile region of Sinai that includes Mt. Sinai and the Santa Katerina Monastery was handed back to Egypt today, two months ahead of the schedule prescribed in the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. The early withdrawal of Israeli forces was a good will gesture that will enable President Anwar Sadat of Egypt to celebrate the second anniversary of his historic visit to Jerusalem at Santa Katerina next Monday.
The next and probably more significant Israeli withdrawal will be from the Alma oil fields in western Sinai on Nov. 26. They are the last of the Sinai oil fields to be returned to Egypt. The Israelis and Egyptians reached agreement last week on the price of Sinai oil that Egypt will supply to Israel in the future.
Meanwhile, the western half of the peninsula is rapidly assuming the appearance it had 12 years ago before it was occupied by Israel, though with certain permanent changes. The Israelis are leaving behind scores of miles of roads which did not exist before. However, they are removing huge quantities of equipment and building material, barbed wire and prefabricated structures which will be transferred to the Negev or to the new EI Arish-Ras Mohammed line that Israel will continue to hold until the evacuation of Sinai is completed in 1981.
So for some 85,000 tons of equipment have been transferred from Sinai. The huge military base at Refidim has become a ghost town and it will soon revert to it original Egyptian name. Bir Gafgafa. But the Israelis are leaving behind a mosque that they refurbished at a cost of IL 350,000. The Israeli advance warning station at Umm Khashiba north of the Gidi Pass, has been demolished. The complex built into the side of a mountain at a cost estimated in the hundreds of millions of Pounds, was the most important command post during the Yom Kippur War.