Normalization Talks in Gear

Israel and Egypt announced yesterday that they have agreed in principle to open the El Arish border crossing point in northern Sinai to the movement of commercial traffic between the two countries. The joint announcement followed a six-hour meeting between Israeli and Egyptian officials at El Arish on ways to improve the normalization process. The communique stressed that both sides desired to “enhance the process of normalization.”

The announcement said a “standing committee of experts” will meet Oct. 12 to make the “practical” arrangements for the transit of goods ct El Arish. Israeli authorities believe that the overland shipment of freight will reduce costs and thereby stimulate the import-export trade between Israel and Egypt.

Until now, El Arish has served as a crossing point only for tourists and others traveling between the two countries. Goods are either air-freighted or carried by sea via Alexandria which is less direct than overland trucking.

FOLLOWS MANY ISRAELI COMPLAINTS

Yesterday’s meeting was the outcome of numerous Israeli complaints in recent weeks that the Egyptians were dragging their feet in the normalization process. The Cairo authorities were accused of actively discouraging Egyptian companies and individuals who want to do business with Israelis and of deterring Egyptians from applying for Israeli entry visas.

Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir reportedly brought these points home forcefully to President Anwar. Sadat when they met in Cairo last week, just before Shamir’s departure for New York to attend the UN General Assembly session. The El Arish meeting was a direct consequence of Shamir’s talks with Sadat and Minister of State for foreign Affairs Butros Ghali.

As a taken of good faith, the Egyptians have also agreed to speed up procedures for granting visas to Israeli tourists. Israel will reciprocate by waiving the need for formal travel documents for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who wish to visit Egypt.

The Israeli delegation to the El Arish meeting was headed by Yosef Hadass who is in charge of the Egyptian Desk at the Foreign Ministry. They noted the warm and friendly atmosphere that prevailed during the talks.

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