Egyptian soldiers deploy at Philadelphi

Egypt will be responsible for stopping infiltrations when IDF leaves Gaza.

The first 750 Egyptian border policemen were deployed along the Philadelphi corridor on Saturday in anticipation of Israel's withdrawal from the volatile Palestinian area. Muhammad Youssef, an official with the Egyptian State Information Service based in the Egyptian border city of Rafah, said 200 soldiers were deployed on Saturday and the rest would take their places during the next four days. Youssef said the Egyptian soldiers would be responsible for preventing infiltration of weapons and drugs into the Palestinian-controlled area following Israel's imminent withdrawal. The move follows an agreement reached with Egypt last week on the number of troops and type of weapons the Egyptians are allowed to use. The IDF will continue patrolling the corridor, Egypt's frontier with the Gaza Strip, up until the pullout when it will be replaced by Palestinian security forces. Israeli and Palestinian officials were expected to discuss arrangements in the coming days regarding the Kerem Shalom border crossing and the Rafah international crossing in southern Gaza, security officials said. Last Thursday the Rafah border crossing was shut down indefinitely and it was still unclear when it would be reopened, the officials added. "If the Palestinians make a unilateral decision to reopen the Rafah Crossing without reaching an understanding with Israel after the IDF pullout, then they will need to coordinate with the Egyptians," an official said. If this occurred, there would be no need to refurbish or open the Kerem Shalom Crossing, the official added. Such a move would require Israel to change its customs arrangement with the PA, and would mean that goods entering Israel from the Strip or goods sent to Gaza would be screened at the Karni Crossing and customs duty paid on the spot, the official said. In an attempt to facilitate humanitarian aid until clearcut decisions were made, PA officials and Palestinian VIPs and merchants and members of international relief organizations in Gaza could enter Israel via the Erez Crossing, the official added. The same applies to those who need urgent medical attention in Israel. In the near future, however, Palestinians living in Gaza who wanted to travel abroad would be bused from the Erez Crossing to the Allenby Bridge, the official said. As part of the agreement, the Rafah border crossing will be closed for about six months while improved security arrangements are implemented and remaining issues resolved. The deployment represents a deepening of Egypt's role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Israel wants the Egyptian troops along the border, fearing that its withdrawal from Gaza will open the way for increased smuggling of weapons to Palestinian terrorists in the territory. While many Egyptians support the deployment of their troops along the border to stop Palestinians from attacking Israel, they worry about potential negative consequences. "It's good and it's bad," said a university professor in Cairo who asked not to be named. "It's good we will prevent the smuggling of weapons, but it's bad because we don't want to be involved in internal Gaza affairs. It's not our affair. "The role we want to play is to cooperate with Israel culturally, economically and agriculturally to create relationships between the two people. We want to visit Israel and we want Israelis to visit here. We want normalization," said the professor. Samar Muhammad, 20, a cashier at a ful and felafel shop, said she supported the deployment. "I think it's good because it prevents weapons from being smuggled from Gaza to Egypt and vice versa." Mona Akram-Ebeid, a political science professor at American University in Cairo and a former politician, was concerned about the possibility of a fight ensuing with the Palestinians. "I hope it won't cause a clash with Palestinians because this would be terrible," she said. "It is a very sensitive thing. Egyptians have always been close to the Palestinians and the Palestinian cause has always been part of the Egyptian people at all levels." Some Egyptians are absolutely opposed to the move. "I am totally against it," said a young English-speaking Egyptian journalist. "I want them to be able to get arms to fight. "I think the Palestinians have a right to resist the occupation. They should be able to fight until there is one country with two people living in it. I don't think Egypt should be helping Israel at all and we should never have made peace with them," he said.