By Amy Teibel JERUSALEM, AP
Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres said Friday that Israel has agreed in principle to evacuate a military patrol road on the Gaza-Egypt border that was one of the deadliest spots during the four-year Palestinian uprising.
Peres spoke after Palestinian security adviser Mohammed Dahlan warned that if Israel does not leave the Philadelphi route as part of its pullout from the Gaza Strip later this year, the patrol road could turn into a flashpoint for attacks.
Israel said it might consider eventually evacuating the road as part of its withdrawal plan and government legal experts indicated Israel would need to leave the corridor if it wanted to officially end its occupation of Gaza under international law.
However, some Israeli officials resisted the move, saying it would allow Palestinians to smuggle weapons into Gaza from Egypt for use against Israel.
Recently, however, cooperation in the region has grown, with Israel and the Palestinians declaring a fragile cease-fire and Egypt offering to send 750 border guards to the area to prevent weapons smuggling.
Asked during an interview on Israel Radio if the hand over of the road has been agreed to in principle, Peres replied, “Yes, but in principle takes less time than in practice.”
“I think we are trying to find a solution for it that would allow freedom of movement for Palestinians in Gaza. Otherwise they will be closed in from all sides,” he said.
Any solution would have to be mediated with Egypt, he noted.
Peres’ comments came amid a mood of renewed optimism following Mahmoud Abbas’ election last month as the new Palestinian leader.
Israel has announced it would release 500 Palestinian prisoners in the coming days. and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz decided Thursday to let Palestinians expelled from the West Bank to Gaza in recent years return home. The government said the first deportees would be allowed to return Friday, but by Friday afternoon the affected Palestinians said they had not been given any information about a return.