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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 December, 2004, 00:03 GMT
Israel 'backs Egypt border force'
Ariel Sharon meets Omar Suleiman
Ariel Sharon (right) meets Egyptian spy boss Omar Suleiman
Israeli leaders have agreed on the deployment of 750 Egyptian troops on the Gaza border ahead of an Israeli withdrawal, Israeli sources say.

Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman were meeting in Jerusalem to discuss the 2005 plan.

The move is intended to check a possible post-pullout power grab by Gaza militants.

Egypt has also reportedly agreed to train Palestinian police officers.

Direct talks hope

The agreement follows a weekend meeting between Egypt's President Mubarak and Mahmoud Abbas, who took over the Palestine Liberation Organisation following the death of veteran figurehead Yasser Arafat last month.

Israel had been eager to involve Egypt in its plans to secure Gaza after its planned withdrawal because it was unwilling to negotiate directly with Arafat.

With Arafat's death, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and Mr Abbas have both raised hopes of direct talks aimed at ending the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Both Egypt and Israel say they do not want militants groups in Gaza, such as Hamas, to gain ground from an Israeli withdrawal.

The Egyptian police will be deployed on the Philadelphi route along the border to stop weapons being smuggled into Gaza.

Israel is planning to pull all its settlers from Gaza and the troops that protect them under Mr Sharon's disengagement plan. Israel will maintain control of Gaza's borders, coastline and airspace. Four West Bank settlements are also to be evacuated.

Syrian offer

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit also said that Syria was ready to resume peace talks with Israel, which broke down in January 2000. However, he said he had no specific message to convey from Damascus.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met Egypt's President Mubarak earlier this week.

Mr Assad has reportedly said he was ready to re-open discussions about the Golan Heights - land annexed by Israel in the 1967 war.

Israel has said it will not talk to Syria unless it stops backing Palestinian militant groups.

The Israeli newspaper Maariv claimed on Wednesday that Mr Sharon's government had turned down a previous offer by President Assad to resume talks, which was extended last year.

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