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Arbiters Study Taba by Air, on Foot

February 19, 1988
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The half-square-mile Taba area on the Red Sea near Eilat was observed from the air and examined on the ground Thursday by the five-member international arbitration team that must decide whether it belongs to Israel or Egypt.

Israeli officials were confident after the three-day on-the-spot inspection that the arbiters will find in favor of Israel. Israel completed its return of Sinai to Egypt in 1982.

The panel consists of three international lawyers agreed to by Israel and Egypt plus an Israeli and an Egyptian appointed by their respective countries.

Panelists got their birds-eye view of Taba from a helicopter provided by the United Nations force that has been monitoring adherence to the terms of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty in Sinai since it was signed in 1979.

In addition, the arbiters, whose average age is in the 70s, spent a strenuous day scrambling up and down rocky hillsides.

They were trying to determine the site of old border markers that show exactly where the Palestine-Egypt border ran more than 80 years ago, when the region was part of the sprawling Ottoman Empire; 40 years ago, when the State of Israel was founded; and 32 years ago, after Israel withdrew from its first invasion of Sinai in 1956.

Once nothing more than seaside sand dunes, Taba now boasts an Israeli luxury hotel, the Sonesta, and the Rafi Nelson vacation village for a less sedate clientele.

The arbiters are Pierre Bellet of France, Gunnar Lagergen of Sweden, Ruth Lapidot of Israel, Dietrich Schindler of Switzerland and Hamed Sultan of Egypt.

They have been attempting, with Bellet’s personal involvement, to convince Egypt and Israel to reach a compromise agreement before the dispute goes to binding arbitration. The United States also has been trying to mediate a compromise.

If no agreement is reached, the panel will reconvene in Geneva on March 14 to hear oral arguments by both sides. A decision would be expected within 90 days.

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