Knesset Approves Egyptian Patrol of Gaza Border

The Knesset voted 53-28 Wednesday to approve the agreement to transfer control of the Gaza-Egyptian border from Israel to Egypt.

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Hillel Fendel and Ezra HaLevi, | updated: 10:39

Prime Minister Sharon and Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz met Wednesday with Egyptian Gen. Omar Suleimon in an attempt to finalize the details of the agreement.

The agreement allows a 750-man Egyptian border force to patrol the line known as the Philadelphi Route - contrary to the Israeli-Eyptian peace treaty of 1979 that forbids any armed Egyptian presence in the Sinai Desert.

IDF officials will sign the accord on Thursday and the Egyptian soldiers will begin to take responsibility for patrolling the route from Rafiah to Kibbutz Keren Shalom bordering the western Negev. The route has been a source of constant arms smuggling, and Egyptian authorities promised its troops will "clean" the area.

The agreement was approved by the Cabinet on Sunday by an 18-2 margin; only Ministers HaNegbi and Livnat voted against. Both ministers were absent from the Knesset during the Knesset vote.

Several MKs who strongly opposed the withdrawal from Gaza voted in favor of the agreement today. Minister Yisrael Katz and Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin both say that there is no point in keeping Israeli soldiers in the area, in between Egyptian and Palestinian Authority forces, now that there is no Jewish civilian presence there.

The Knesset approved the agreement with the support of the left-wing and Arab parties, as well as most of the Likud. Likud MKs who voted against it include disengagement-supporter Yuval Shteinitz, as well as many of the Likud "rebels" who opposed Sharon's expulsion plan.