Sarkozy deploys French frigate to Gaza

Helicopter-carrier to survey area, fight arms smuggling; PM OKs anti-smuggling mechanism.

gilad schalit 248.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
gilad schalit 248.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday ordered that a frigate be immediately deployed off Gaza to survey the area and fight arms smuggling. A statement Friday by Sarkozy's office said he had asked that the helicopter-carrier be immediately deployed in international waters off Gaza "in full cooperation with Egypt and Israel." The move is aimed at consolidating the fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Sarkozy traveled twice to the region to help put together a cease-fire, in an initiative with Egypt. He also ordered French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to "coordinate closely" with the United States and Europe and propose other ways to fight arms smuggling. In related news, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met overnight Thursday and approved the implementation of a new mechanism set up with Egypt to prevent Gaza arms smuggling. The new mechanism consists of three layers - intelligence cooperation, obstacles in Sinai and the deployment of new tunnel-detection technology along the border. Thursday night's meeting came after Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry's diplomatic-military bureau, returned from Cairo where he met Egyptian government officials, including intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, for talks about Gilad Schalit and the new anti-smuggling mechanism. Defense officials said Thursday that Gilad would likely travel to Egypt every other week to oversee the mechanism's effectiveness. Last week, Livni and then-US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) pledging greater US and international assistance to stymie weapons smuggling into Gaza. An Egyptian source told Al-Hayat that during Thursday's talks in Cario, Gilad emphasized that Israel was not yet ready to sign a truce agreement with Hamas and that it was far more important to first stop arms smuggling, rocket fire and infiltrations from Sinai into Gaza. The source also told the London-based paper that Gilad said the issue of Schalit would be top priority in negotiations over opening the Gaza crossings. Nevertheless, following Gilad's talks in Cairo, Army Radio quoted a Ramallah source as saying that there was no progress on the Schalit issue, and, Abu Mujahid, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, one of the groups behind Schalit's abduction, said that demands for the captive's release were unchanged. Meanwhile, a Jerusalem official told Reuters that Israel should show more flexibly in a deal for the captured soldier and should even release Palestinian inmates responsible for large-scale terror attacks. According the official, Hamas had been severely weakened in the IDF's Operation Cast Lead and therefore, a prisoner swap wouldn't significantly strengthen the group. On Friday, some 50 demonstrators gathered outside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Jerusalem residence, calling on him to act to secure Schalit's release before the end of his time in office. The demonstrators carried signs which emphasized that Schalit had been in captivity for 943 days and which read: "Olmert! Finish the job and free Gilad." They also held pictures of Schalit and horns, and carried placards directed at passing motorists reading: "Give a honk of support," and, "Honk your horn for Gilad." Yaakov Katz contributed to this report