TEL AVIV (Jan. 24)
An advance detachment of Egyptian military personnel arrived at Refidim today to prepare for the formal Egyptian takeover of the Sinai military base evacuated by Israeli forces yesterday. Israel will hand over the base at ceremonies tomorrow. Meanwhile, the Egyptian soldiers have taken over the electric power system, communications facilities and water sources. They are being quartered temporarily at the local hospital and in dormitories at the airfield.
No decision has been reached so far on the disposition of the 100-odd members of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) whose functions will become redundant when Israeli and Egyptian troops begin their joint policing of the new buffer zone in Sinai. The UNTSO force includes. 18 Russians. It has been in Sinai since the 1975 interim agreement between Israel and Egypt established a system of buffer zones and limited forces zones. UNTSO was established to see to it that both sides observed the terms of the truce agreement.
One suggestion is that Egypt request UN Secretary General Kurt Woldheim to assign UNTSO officers to assist the 200 American civilians who have been manning the early warning system in Sinai since 1975.
Meanwhile, Israelis are looking toward to Saturday when the normalization of relations with Egypt becomes official. Normalization will be the first affirmative action by Egypt after nine months during which Israel has carried the burden of the peace treaty, relinquishing strategic territory, important military bases and the Sinai oil-fields. On Saturday, the Egyptians are expected to formally announce the end of the state of war with Israel and the obligation of all anti-Israel clauses in the treaties and agreements they have with other countries. Egyptian Defense Minister Kamal Hassan Ali has promised that a new epoch making phase in Egyptian-Israeli relations will begin this weekend.
Defense Minister Ezer Weizman returned today from his three-day visit to Cairo, where he had talks with President Anwar Sadat, Premier Mustapha Khalil and Ali, optimistic that normalization will be implemented as agreed. Weizman reported that Ali will visit Israel sometime next month. He said his talks with Sadat focussed on the developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan and that both he and Sadat spoke “in a common language” on the Afghanistan issue. The issue of autonomy did not come up during Weizman’s visit.
Meanwhile, the Israeli and Egyptian representatives at the international Convention on Land Communications in Geneva agreed this week to develop on 800-kilometer Sinai railroad system linking Israel and Egypt. The rail line will run from Kantara on the Suez Canal to El Arish. There it will be connected to the existing Israeli railway system which is itself badly in need of reconstruction.