Israel has hauled down its flag over El Arish -- the first town to be returned to Egyptian control in terms of the Middle East Peace Treaty.
Israel has hauled down its flag over El Arish -- the first town to be returned to Egyptian control in terms of the Middle East Peace Treaty. Along with El Arish went a thin silver of land connecting it with the rest of Egypt. The town fell to the advancing Israeli Army during the 1967 War and for the past twelve years it has been under military occupation. And the return of the town on Friday morning (25 May) was also a military affair.
SYNOPSIS: At a few seconds to eleven o'clock the Israeli flag was lowered for the last time. That was the signal for the majority of the forty thousand residents of the town -- kept well away behind barbed wire fences until now -- to let it be known that they approved wholeheartedly of what was happening.
Many of el Arish's residents doubted they would ever see the end of military rule. But the appearance of the Egyptian flag told them that their twelve-year dream was now reality.
Their exhuberance lead to some confusion. Officially, the town was now Egyptian again, but the Israeli Army was still trying to hold the line. Before anyone could decide to what to do, the citizens of El Arish took over. There have been several clashes with the occupying forces and it was hardly surprising that, as the Israelis pulled out at noon, the suppressed feelings of twelve years took over.
Much now depends on the talks which started on Friday afternoon in Beersheba to try and hammer out the proposals for autonomy on the Israeli occupied West Bank and the Gaza strip. Israel and Egypt must agree on a common policy that the Egyptians can try and sell to the Arab world. But even the optimists admit that the problems are daunting -- and the chances of success seem small.
Because Israel's views on autonomy vary sharply with those of the United States and Egypt, early storms in the negotiations are thought to be likely.
Israel is calling for highly limited self-rule, while Egypt is holding out for much wider Palestinian freedom.
American Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, is lending his weight to the opening round.