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Israel sees no additional Egyptian troops in Sinai for now

(Xinhua)

09:50, August 29, 2011

JERUSALEM, Aug. 25 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said over the weekend that, for the moment, Israel is disinclined to approve the deployment of additional Egyptian military forces in the Sinai Peninsula, a region that has destabilized dramatically over the past year.

Barak's decision contradicted media reports on Friday, including one in the British weekly The Economist, according to which he said that it was in Israel's interest to allow more Egyptian troops into neighboring Sinai to deal with the deteriorating security situation in the region.

"No request has been submitted by Egypt to augment troops and if such a request is made, it will be examined in the appropriate forums," a Defense Ministry official told the Israeli Ha'aretz newspaper.

In an interview with the Israel Radio on Sunday, Barak declined to comment on whether Israel would agree to the latest Egyptian request to significantly bolster its military presence with thousands of more troops.

Instead, he said that he had personally approved a request by Hosni Mubarak, the ousted Egyptian president, to beef-up troop levels in the peninsula.

"And since the last crisis (Egypt's social unrest that led to Mubarak's downfall), we approved on several occasions the deployment of more battalions into Sinai ... this deployment is needed to ensure protection of the gas pipeline and the joint struggle against terror," Barak said.

In February, Israel heeded a request by Egypt's recently- installed military leadership to dispatch several hundred elite troops alongside two battalions, about 1,200 soldiers in all, to secure Sharm el-Sheikh, a popular tourist resort on the Red Sea.

The troops were brought in on a temporary basis to assist in repelling armed attacks carried out by local Bedouins against Egyptian facilities, mainly a natural gas pipeline that has since been sabotaged on at least five occasions.

Earlier this month, Israel greenlighted the deployment of more than 1,000 troops in El-Arish equipped with armored personnel carriers and tanks after Islamic militants launched a wide-scale assault on a police station.

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