Middle East

Israel proposes land swap with Egypt to enlarge Gaza

JERUSALEM: A senior Israeli military official has drawn up a Middle East peace plan proposing to increase the size of the Gaza Strip threefold through an Israeli-Egyptian land swap, an official source said.

National Security Council chief Major General Giora Eiland's plan calls on Egypt to give 600 square kilometers in the Sinai Peninsula to Palestinians.

In return, Israel would hand over 200 square kilometers of land in the southern Negev desert to Egypt, including a tunnel linking it to Jordan.

"This is only one of the options being considered by the National Security Council as part of a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians," an Israeli official told AFP.

Israel's top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot said the project had already been presented to White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, with Premier Ariel Sharon's approval.

The plan was intended to be released as a European initiative to which Israel was meant to agree, the newspaper said.

But the first step was Sharon's "disengagement" plan, which was embarrassingly rejected by his own Likud Party last Sunday despite backing from Washington, casting a doubt over the wider plan's feasibility.

The Sharon plan calls for a complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, including the removal of all 21 settlements there and their 7,500 residents.

Eiland's plan would triple the size of the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely-populated areas in the world where 1.3 million Palestinians live in poverty.

The patch of land to be relinquished by Israel would encroach on the southern Negev desert and be prolonged by a tunnel under Egyptian sovereignty, providing a land link between Egypt and Jordan.

According to Yediot, the plan stresses that the route would offer free access to the Mediterranean to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and the possibility to use new sea and air port facilities in the enlarged Gaza territory.

Eiland's plan also stipulates that the Palestinians would be granted sovereignty over 89 percent of the West Bank as part of a final settlement to the decades-old conflict.





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