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Israel Says No Objections to US Gulf Arms Deal

Israel's Prime Minister on Sunday said he has no objections to a proposed massive U.S. arms sale to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem.

Israel has long expressed wariness over U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says the proposal by the U.S. to sell $20 billion worth of advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states is understandable.

Mr. Olmert says his government understands the need to strengthen moderate Arab countries that face Iran and there is a need for a united front between the U.S. and Israel regarding Iran.

The proposed arms deal includes advanced satellite guided bombs and upgrades that will greatly enhance the long-range striking ability of Saudi fighter aircraft. It also includes a large number of naval vessels.

Under the proposed deal Israel will also benefit. The deal calls for Israel to receive a 25-percent increase in U.S. military assistance. Israel currently receives $2.4 billion a year in military aid. That will jump to $3 billion a year over ten years, for a total of $30 billion, ten billion dollars more than the proposed sale to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

The deal is expected to be formally announced by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who heads to the Middle East this week on a rare joint mission with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Meanwhile Israel on Sunday allowed about 100 Palestinians stranded in Egypt to travel to the Gaza Strip by passing through an Israeli-Egyptian border crossing. The main Rafah crossing point between the Gaza Strip and Egypt has been closed since the Hamas takeover of Gaza last month, stranding about six thousand Palestinians on the Egyptian side of the border. Riad Maliki a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he believes all the stranded Palestinians will make it back to Gaza in the next few days.

Maliki says the Israeli-Egyptian crossing has been used in the past to allow Gaza residents to travel to Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage, the Hajj.

Hamas has criticized the move to allow Palestinians to use the Israeli crossing, saying the Rafah crossing should be reopened instead. Israel has closed the entry points to Gaza for all but humanitarian aid and emergency medical issues, saying Hamas has used the Rafah crossing to smuggle weapons from Egypt into Gaza and has attacked other crossings that border on Israel.