U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked Egypt’s foreign minister to keep open communication with Israel, amid tensions over Cairo’s deployment of forces to the Sinai Peninsula, the State Department said Thursday.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that Clinton on Wednesday spoke by telephone to Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr as unease grew in Israel over the deployment of troops in the Sinai, contrary to the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries.
“This call was in keeping with a series of contacts that we've had in recent days with both Egyptians and Israelis encouraging both sides to keep the lines of communication open between them, to talk directly about any issues of concern,” Nuland said.
Clinton encouraged a policy that “first and foremost strengthens Egypt's security but also has a positive impact on the security of neighbors in the region as a whole,” she added.
Reports in Israeli media this week said that Egypt had moved anti-aircraft missiles into the Sinai Peninsula without Israel’s permission. Such equipment is prohibited in Sinai by the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
An Egyptian military source, however, denied on Tuesday that his country was deploying troops in Sinai beyond the limitations stipulated in the 1979 Camp David Accords.
The source told the Al-Ahram newspaper that the operation is “well coordinated with both the Americans and Israelis.”
“The fact that contact between both sides has not been made known to the press does not mean it is not happening – actually it goes beyond mere information sharing and includes efforts to coordinate,” the source said.
Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali told Al-Ahram that the operation falls within the scope of Egyptian "sovereignty over Sinai, all of Sinai."
On Tuesday, the Maariv Hebrew-language website reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has demanded that Egypt cease sending tanks into the Sinai without Israel's approval.
An Israeli government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, later confirmed to The New York Times that Israel is “troubled” by the entry of Egyptian tanks into the northern Sinai Peninsula without coordination with Israel and has asked Egypt to withdraw them.
The Israeli request was conveyed within the last few days, the official said, adding that it was likely that the Obama administration had made a similar approach to Cairo.
Meanwhile on Thursday, Mohammed Jamal Arfa, a senior Egyptian journalist linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, launched a frontal attack on Israel following its demand that Egypt withdraw armored vehicles it recently deployed in the Sinai Peninsula.
In an article in the mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party, Arfa wrote that Israel is the one that demanded that former president Hosni Mubarak and his Head of Intelligence, Omar Suleiman, deploy large forces in Sinai to fight the terror organizations there. Yet now that President Mohammed Morsi is doing just that, he accused, Israel claims Egypt is breaching the Camp David peace accords and is concerned it will not withdraw the forces.