- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — Israel will turn the Gaza-Egypt border over to the Egyptians if they stop Palestinian arms smuggling, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday during a trip to the United States.

The move would be part of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, set for the summer. Israel patrols a wide border road and often has sent troops into the Rafah refugee camp, uncovering dozens of arms-smuggling tunnels.

Speaking to Israel Bonds leaders in New York, Mr. Sharon said if Egypt stops the smuggling, “Israel will be glad to leave this area.”

Mr. Sharon spoke a day after Israeli Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged to ease security restrictions and turn over the crucial Rafah border post to Egypt within a few months of the withdrawal. He made his comments in Jordan at the World Economic Forum, where Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan pledged to prevent attacks on Israel.

Critics of handing control of the border to Egypt — including Yuval Steinitz, a member of Mr. Sharon’s Likud Party and chairman of the powerful parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee — charge that Egypt would not have the motivation or ability to stop the arms smuggling, and soon Israel would face a Gaza armed with weapons such as ground-to-ground and anti-aircraft missiles.

Mr. Sharon, on a three-day visit to the United States to bolster ties with American Jews in advance of the Gaza pullout, found himself heckled Sunday by those who complain he is caving in to Palestinian violence.

The prime minister had to pause a speech when the interruption grew louder and the protesters were escorted out of the Baruch College auditorium in Manhattan. He then received an ovation from the crowd.

“I said in the past, and I say it also today: I am willing to make painful compromises for peace,” Mr. Sharon said. “I think that the entire world can now see how hard such compromises are. There is one thing on which we will not make any compromises — not now and not in the future — and that is our security.”

Mr. Sharon’s opponents accuse him of capitulating to Palestinian violence and warn that the moves will lead to further territorial concessions. Many protesters wore orange T-shirts Sunday, the color adopted by Gaza settlers who oppose his plan.

Security was tight for Mr. Sharon’s visit, as police barricaded sidewalks to prevent protesters from getting too close to the auditorium. Chants of “Never again” and “Let our people stay” reached a crescendo when Mr. Sharon’s motorcade passed through an intersection 100 yards away.

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