August 26, 2011 / 10:57 AM / 8 years ago

Egypt, Israel agree on troop increase in Sinai

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt and Israel have agreed to increase the number of Egyptian troops in the Sinai border region, a high-ranking security official said on Friday, easing diplomatic tensions after an eruption of violence in the area.

A series of attacks and counter-attacks in areas around the border last week triggered the most serious row between Israel and Egypt since a popular revolt overthrew Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February.

“After continued negotiations there is now an initial agreement between Egypt and Israel to deploy more Egyptian troops in the Sinai region,” the Egyptian security official told Reuters, asking to remain anonymous.

The agreement was reached during long-running talks over border security.

But the official said negotiations were pushed along by a deadly attack by gunmen last week, who killed eight Israelis on a desert border road.

Israel said the attackers came in from Gaza via the Sinai region and accused Cairo of losing its grip on the area.

Egypt launched a formal complaint after saying Israeli forces, pursuing the gunmen, had killed five of its own security officials. Israel later moved to ease tensions by promising to investigate the killings.

The Sinai forms a huge desert buffer zone between Egypt and Israel. The countries signed a treaty in 1979 after fighting two wars in less than a decade.

“The negotiations seek to amend the security arrangement within the peace treaty which has demilitarised the region for so long,” the security official added, without specifying whether such an amendment would be temporary or permanent.

The Economist reported earlier that Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Bark would let Egypt deploy thousands of troops in the Sinai to tighten security.

Egypt would bring in helicopters and armoured vehicles but no tanks other than one battalion already stationed there, the Economist added.

“Following recent violence at the border, Israel has become more understanding about the security situation we are dealing with in Sinai,” an Egyptian intelligence official said.

“So far there are 750 border guards stretched across a 13 kilometre (8 mile) border. That is about one border guard per kilometre. Who can possibly patrol the border properly with that small number?” the intelligence official added.

Writing by Marwa Awad; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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