JERUSALEM (Jan. 27)
Israel and Egypt were officially of peace with each other today for the first time in more than 30 years. Their land borders were opened to tourists and other civilian traffic. Egypt announced the termination of its state of war with Israel and its participation in the Arab League boycott of Israel and relayed those decisions to the United Nations and other international organizations.
Normal relations were established over the weekend, beginning Friday, when Refidim, the largest Israeli military base in Sinai was formally handed over to Egypt along with some 5500 square miles of territory evacuated by Israeli forces last week. On that occasion, President Anwar Sadat telephoned Premier Menachem Begin and assured the Israeli leader of Egypt’s determination to implement fully the normalization clauses of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
Israeli officials were especially pleased by the Egyptian decision not to link the normalization process to the autonomy talks which remain deadlocked. Sadat placed Defense Minister Kamal Hassan Ali in direct charge of the normalization machinery, a move regarded here as a slap in the face to Foreign Minister Butros Ghali and other hardliners who wanted to develop relations with Israel at a slower pace. The Israeli Cabinet is expected to reciprocate by putting Defense Minister Ezer Weizman in charge of normalization on the Israeli side.
PRACTICAL EFFECTS OF NORMALIZATION
The practical effects of normalization were visible this morning when the first bus load of Israeli tourists arrived at El Arish and, after undergoing formalities, boarded an Egyptian bus bound for Cairo. For the time being, the Egyptians are limiting border crossings to organized groups of Israeli who have obtained entry visas from the Foreign Ministry in Cairo or who hold passports of a third country. Two foreign tourists, one French and one German, crossed the border from Egypt into. Israel today. The Egyptians, however, refused entry to a group of Arab residents of Gaza who arrived at El Arish by bus with valid entry permits. No immediate explanation was given.
El Arish, which was returned to Egypt last month, is equipped to handle civilian cross traffic It has a police checkpoint and a bank where travelers can exchange currencies. Only buses were allowed to cross the border today. Private vehicles will be permitted after Egypt opens its first consulate in Tel Aviv next month.
Israel and Egypt will exchange ambassadors on Feb. 27. But the Israeli Embassy will be opened officially in Cairo tomorrow by an Israeli team headed by Dr. Yossef Hadass, deputy to Ambassador Eliahu Ben-Elissar. It will be located at the Cairo Hilton Hotel until proper quarters can be found in the Egyptian capital for the permanent embassy and the Ambassador’s residence.
There were other manifestations of normal relations today. Postal and telephonic communications were opened between Israel and Egypt. The first mail bag to Egypt was on its way this afternoon. The Post Office in Beersheba stamped the mail with a special postmark proclaiming that “Today normal relations have been instituted between Israel and Egyptian newspapers have been arriving in Israel directly for the past two weeks and distributors report they are in heavy demand.
The international telephone operator in Tel Aviv inaugurated two direct lines to Cairo today. Both were reported heavily booked as of early this morning. There was a 1-2 hour wait for calls to Cairo. At a later stage it will be possible to direct-dial numbers in each country. Telex and cable communications have also been established.
Direct civilian flights between Israel and Egypt are not expected to begin for several weeks. The two countries have yet to complete negotiations on various civil aviation agreements. Under terms of their peace treaty, flights were to be established only a year after normalization took effect. However, Begin and Sadat agreed to speed up the process at their summit-meeting in Aswan earlier this month. Nevertheless, air mail will have to await the inauguration of scheduled flights. For the time being air letters between the two countries will be carried via Europe.
But as of today, ships of Israeli and Egyptian registry may call freely at each other’s ports with passengers and cargo.
JOINT PROJECTS ANNOUNCED
Trade, economic and cultural ties can be initiated privately. Official negotiations relating to those matters are scheduled to begin on Feb. 15, much earlier than the date set in the peace treaty. This was initiated by Sadat in a special order to his ministers. It was seen here as another indication that Egypt will not link the process of normalization to progress in the autonomy talks.
Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon told Kol Israel Radio in an interview from West Germany today that six Israeli agricultural experts are conducting a water resources survey in Egypt. He said that other joint projects will include packaging and sorting stations for agricultural products to be exchanged between Israel and Egypt.
The semi-official Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram said today that Sadat will announce publicly tomorrow counter-measures against Arab countries opposed to the peace treaty with Israel. Sadat’s speech will coincide with the Moslem summit conference taking place in Islamabad, Pakistan. The participants are considering measures to oppose both the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the normalization process between Egypt and Israel.
Meanwhile, residents of the West Bank held a general strike yesterday to protest the new relationship between Egypt and Israel. The strike was total but no disturbances were reported. Violence erupted in Gaza yesterday although there was no strike. Ten local Arabs were wounded when a hand grenade tossed at a passing Israeli vehicle missed its mark.
On the West Bank, the National Guidance Committee, a pro-Palestine Liberation Organization body, ordered a ban on any Arab meeting with U.S. special Ambassador Sol Linowitz who is due in Israel later this week to participate in the next round of autonomy talks at Herzliya. The committee claimed that all West Bank residents reject the autonomy plan.
The military ceremonies at Refidim Friday followed a routine that has become familiar since Israel handed back other areas of Sinai last year. Gert. Dan Shomron, commander of Israeli forces in Sinai, spoke of hopes for true peace. Army bands played Hatikva and the Egyptian national anthem. The Israeli flag was lowered and the Egyptian colors, were raised. Gen. Abed Rabel Hofez, chief of Egyptian army operations spoke briefly. Defense Minister Hassan Ali of Egypt and the commanders of the Egyptian Second and Third armies saluted and Refidim reverted to its old name, Bir Gafgafa.
MOUNTING CONCERN ABOUT SYRIA
As peace come to Israel’s southern borders, Israelis were looking to the north with mounting concern. Syria has been bringing armored units into Lebanon, including rocket launchers with a 12-mile range. It has concentrated infantry units south of Beirut. Israeli leaders warned two weeks ago of Syrian preparations for a possible move against Israel, backed by Soviet arms and advisors. The Israelis take a serious view of the latest Syrian troop movements because they coincide with President Hafez Addod’s visit to Saudi Arabia yesterday and the scheduled arrival in Damascus today of Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko.