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Egypt Pledges to Help Secure Gaza Border if Israel Pulls Out - 2004-03-11

Egypt said Thursday it was willing to increase security along its side of the border with Gaza, if Israel decides to pull its troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip.

While pledging to help secure the border with Gaza, Egyptian President Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said Egypt would not make its troops available to patrol the streets of the Gaza Strip, saying that should be the job of the Palestinian Authority.

Both spoke after meeting with Israel's foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, in Cairo.

Mr. Shalom was sent to Egypt Thursday to discuss what role Egypt would be willing to play in an Israeli withdrawal, under consideration by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

While Egyptian officials expressed support for the idea, they are also concerned it could lead to anarchy that might spread across the border into Egypt.

Mr. Mubarak said Egypt would take all necessary measures to secure its border with Gaza.

Mr. Shalom told reporters Thursday Israel will continue to build the security barrier in the West Bank. The barrier has caused a storm of protest from Palestinians and throughout the Arab world. But, Mr. Shalom said the architect of the barrier is terror.

"This security fence was built after 19,000 terrorist attacks that we suffered from the Palestinians," he said. "I don't think that any other country would act differently after 19 attacks, not 19,000 terrorist attacks. We didn't want to build the fence. Since 1967 and 2002, we didn't build this fence, but I would like you to know something else. While the fence is reversible, human lives are irreversible."

Mr. Shalom praised Egypt for playing what he called a key role in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, and said he is asking Egyptian leaders to help build an infrastructure for peace.

Mr. Shalom's visit to Egypt was the first by an Israeli foreign minister in more than two years. Relations between the two countries have been described as cold since the Palestinian intifada began in September 2000. Weeks into the uprising, President Mubarak withdrew Egypt's ambassador to Israel in protest of what he called the mistreatment of Palestinians by Israeli troops.