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Israelis, Egyptians Hold Friendly Talks on Taba and Normalization of Relations

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Israeli diplomats returning from Cairo after the latest round of talks on the Taba border dispute reported an unexpectedly warm and friendly atmosphere among the Israeli and Egyptian working groups dealing with both Taba and the parallel issues of normalization of relations between the two countries. Nevertheless, thorny problems remain to be resolved.

The Israeli team is headed by Gen. (Res.) Avraham Tamir, Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office, and David Kimche, Director General of the Foreign Ministry. Their talks wound up in Cairo last Thursday night and will resume later this week when the Israelis host the Egyptian teams in Herzliyah. These are the first negotiations since Israel’s Inner Cabinet accepted in principle last January 13 Egypt’s demand to submit the Taba dispute to international arbitration.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ismet Abdel Meguid told Tamir and kimche that all restrictions on trade with Israeli firms have been lifted and that he anticipated an early meeting between the Egyptian and Israeli tourism ministers to discuss ways to boost tourist traffic between the two countries.

MOVEMENT ON THE RAS BURKA CASE

Meguid also informed the Israeli officials that the full court judgement in the Ras Burka case will be conveyed to the Israel Embassy in Cairo as soon as it is signed by Defense Minister Abu-Ghazalla.

The document is the court record of the trial and conviction of an Egyptian soldier, Suleiman Khatar, who, on October 1, 1985, machinegunned to death seven Israeli tourists on the beach at Ras Burka in eastern Sinai. He was sentenced to life imprisonment but hanged himself in a military hospital.

Israel had demanded the full report of the inquiry commission set up by Cairo to investigate the killings, and the refusal of the Egyptian government to turn this over worsened the strained relations with Egypt. But Israel now is apparently willing to accept the 23-page court judgement while reserving the right to request further material should this prove incomplete. The Egyptians have agreed. Israel is also asking Egypt to pay reparations to the families of the seven victims, four of whom were children.

TABA ISSUE IS THORNY

With respect to Taba, serious differences are expected to surface over the number and make-up of the arbitration panel, the duration of the arbitration proceedings and the wording of the questions the arbitrators will be asked to determine ownership of the tiny Taba territory.

Sharp differences are also bound to arise over Israel’s condition that the first eight months of the process be devoted to attempts at conciliation, meaning to reach a compromise between the two disputants if possible before awarding a decision to one or the other. Egypt has never accepted the term “conciliation.”

ISRAELI ON DEATH ROW IN CAIRO

An unrelated issue that could disturb Israeli-Egyptian relations is the death sentence imposed by a Cairo court on an Israeli citizen, Yosef Taban of Ashdod, who was convicted of smuggling 1.25 kilograms of heroin into Egypt. Taban was arrested at Cairo airport last August enroute home from Bombay and reportedly told the Egyptian authorities the heroin was intended for sale in Israel.

Israel is now expected to ask Egypt to extradite Taban. Police Minister Haim Barlev expressed hope that the Egyptians would do this but has not said whether a decision has been made to request his extradition. Taban is now on death row in a Cairo prison awaiting confirmation of his sentence by the Council of Muftis.

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