Business continues as usual for Sinai monitors

Multinational Force and Observers team doesn't forsee any changes in deployment of its operations, despite recent events at Rafah.

MFO 88 (photo credit:)
MFO 88
(photo credit: )
The recent events on the Gaza-Sinai border have not impacted on the duties or deployment of the some 1,800 members of the Multinational Force and Observers [MFO] team monitoring the 1979 Camp David accords, a senior member of the force said Monday. Michael Sternberg, the MFO director-general's representative in Israel, said he did not anticipate "any changes in deployment of our operations. If there were to be a change it would have to decided by the two sides [Egypt and Israel]; they jointly decide the fate and destiny of the mission." The MFO, comprised of personnel from 11 different countries, with the most coming from the US, was established in 1981 as an international peacekeeping force to oversee the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt. Under those accords, four security zones were established - three in the Sinai, and one in Israel along the international border - with limitations on military forces and equipment within each zone. The MFO's role is to monitor that these stipulations are honored. Sternberg said that the MFO was not involved in the current "event" along the border. "Our mission continues as before, and we have not been asked to do anything differently," he said. "The parties are our bosses and control our mission." Sternberg said that the MFO's two priorities were performing its mission and protecting its soldiers. Although there has been some speculation that force protection could become much more difficult with terrorists from Gaza now possibly hiding out in Sinai, Sternberg said he did not anticipate any changes in deployment. The MFO is stationed at two large bases, one in the northern Sinai at El Gorah, about 27 kilometers southeast of El Arish, and another at Sharm e-Sheikh. There are also some 30 smaller outposts throughout the Sinai. In April 2005, an MFO vehicle carrying two Canadian force members was badly damaged in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack, and the two force members slightly wounded. And a year later, in April 2006, a suicide bomber attacked an MFO vehicle driving from El Gorah to the Rafah border crossing. The car was damaged, but no one besides the suicide bomber was killed. The MFO's director-general, James Larocco, is scheduled to arrive this week from his headquarters in Rome, but both Sternberg and Israeli officials said this was a routine visit that had been planned long before the recent events in Gaza. One senior Israeli diplomatic official, who said he has not picked up any signals that the force was changing its deployment, said the MFO was "not involved in the Rafah story. The dangers are always there, but they [the MFO] can defend themselves."