JERUSALEM (Aug. 22)
Egypt began air and sea shuttle services Wednesday to bring home thousands of its nationals stranded in the Jordanian port of Aqaba after fleeing Iraq and Kuwait.
The move rendered moot an earlier plan to bus the refugees across Israeli territory near Eilat to the Taba border crossing in Sinai.
Israel had agreed for humanitarian reasons to facilitate the overland route after Egypt, pleading insufficient shipping, asked for help.
Foreign Minister David Levy, who consulted on the matter with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, pointed out that the refugees were the nationals of a “friendly state,” fleeing from an oppressive dictator.
But Cairo had second thoughts after a meeting Monday between Levy and the Egyptian ambassador, Mohammed Basiouny, became public knowledge.
The leak of the plan to the news media is understood to have embarrassed the Egyptians and possibly deterred Jordan from agreeing to let the refugees leave by way of Israel.
While Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel, Jordan is still technically at war with the Jewish state.
Shimon Peres, leader of the opposition Labor Party, called the news leak a “serious mistake.”
Levy also was criticized anonymously by some of his fellow Likud ministers for premature disclosure of the plan.
But he was defended by a senior aide, Uri Oren, who was quoted by Davar on Wednesday as saying that “Israel is always expected to behave like a kept woman — to provide its services and stay out of the picture.”
After reports that the Egyptian refugees were demonstrating in Aqaba to protest the bureaucratic delays that kept them sweltering for days in that sun-baked port, the Egyptians managed to find civilian and military aircraft to fly them home.
In addition, two motor launches were pressed into service to transport refugees around the clock from Aqaba to the Sinai port of Nueiba.