Egypt and Israel have agreed to increase the number of Egyptian troops in the Sinai border region after an eruption of violence in the area, a high-ranking security official told Reuters.
“After continued negotiations there is now an initial agreement between Egypt and Israel to deploy more Egyptian troops in the Sinai region,” the Egyptian security official said, asking to remain anonymous.
The agreement was reached during long-running talks over border security. But the official said negotiations were pushed along by a deadly attack by gunmen last week, who killed eight Israelis. Israel said the attackers infiltrated from Gaza via the Sinai region.
Seven of the attackers were killed by Israeli forces and Egypt said five of its men died in the crossfire, touching off a diplomatic rift between the two countries.
Egypt and Israel’s 1979 peace treaty allows only a small presence of lightly armed Egyptian border guards in a demilitarized Sinai and also curbs Israeli deployment on its side of the frontier.
The Economist reported that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel would also allow Egyptian helicopters and armored vehicles into Sinai but no tanks other than one battalion already stationed there.
Officials in the Israeli defense ministry and prime minister’s office declined comment on the report by the London-based weekly news magazine.
With Israel’s agreement to temporary reinforcements, Egypt had already beefed up its forces in the Sinai and had been waging an offensive against militants in the area before the cross-border assault.
Barak’s latest reported comments appeared to go a step further, suggesting open-ended deployment.
Five Egyptian security men were killed in clashes between Israeli troops and the gunmen, seven of whom were killed.
Israel has offered to conduct a joint investigation into the deaths of the Egyptians in the incident, which triggered anti-Israeli protests in Cairo.
In an interview with CNN on Thursday, Barak was cautious about the effect a bolstered Egyptian military presence would have on securing Sinai. “I am not very optimistic that it will all change in a matter of weeks,” Barak said.