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Last Updated: Friday, 27 February, 2004, 11:57 GMT
Israel 'offers Egypt Gaza role'
Israeli soldiers inspect arms smuggling tunnel in house in Rafah
Palestinians have been smuggling weapons into Gaza
Israel has reportedly asked Egypt to take control of part of the Gaza Strip in the event of an Israeli withdrawal.

The idea was discussed when Israeli intelligence officials visited Cairo earlier this month, Israeli security sources were quoted as saying.

Under the plan, Egyptian forces would replace Israeli troops in a narrow corridor between the town of Rafah in Gaza and the Egyptian border.

Israel has said it is considering pulling out of most of the Gaza Strip.

In Jerusalem, meanwhile, Israeli police have fired stun grenades at stone-throwing Palestinians at a contested holy site.

Police stormed the compound - known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount - when Palestinians began rioting after Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque on the site, police spokesman Gil Kleiman said.

Hamas fears

Israeli troops have frequently clashed with Palestinians attempting to smuggle weapons and explosives into Gaza from Egypt by tunnelling under the Israel-controlled perimeter, known as the Philadelphia Corridor.

Israel is concerned that the Islamic militant group Hamas will take over in Gaza if Israel withdraws, making the flow of illicit arms impossible to control.

Egypt is also reportedly worried that the spread of Hamas' power in Gaza will influence Islamic fundamentalists in Egypt and destabilise Hosni Mubarak's government.

Former Israeli Defence Minster Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Egypt had promised to prevent arms smuggling to Gaza if Israel pulled out, Israel radio reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he will dismantle most of the 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and redeploy troops if peace talks with the Palestinians ultimately fail.

A time frame for a withdrawal has not been made public.

The prospect of an Egyptian security role in Gaza will be discussed when Mr Sharon's bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, visits the White House next week, the Jerusalem Post newspaper reported.

The corridor, several hundred metres wide, was retained by Israel when most of Gaza was turned over to the Palestinian Authority under peace accords in the 1990s.

The town of Rafah was split between Israel and Egypt after the two sides signed the Camp David peace treaty in 1978.

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