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Egypt to boost troops on Rafah border after Israel deal

1979 peace treaty requires each side to agree to any change in troop numbers along their border region
Egypt has been conducting an operation against militants since February 2018, mainly focused on North Sinai and the country's Western Desert (AFP)

Egypt said on Monday that it was boosting troop numbers around Rafah in the restive Sinai region as part of its battle against militants of the so-called Islamic State, after striking a coordination deal with neighbouring Israel.

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 after decades of enmity and conflict. The treaty requires each side to agree to any change in troop numbers within the border region.

Egypt gave no details of how many extra soldiers would be deployed, but it is the first agreed increase in troops since 2018, AFP reported.

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The joint military committee of the Israeli and Egyptian armies held a meeting on Sunday to discuss bilateral issues, the Egyptian army's spokesperson said in a statement.

The "committee succeeded in amending the security agreement, in coordination with the Israeli side, to increase the number of [Egyptian] border guard forces" in Rafah, a city in North Sinai that borders the Gaza Strip, the statement said.

Israel's army said they would "continue working together to ensure security along our border" following the meeting.

Egypt's Rafah crossing is the only passage to the besieged Gaza Strip not controlled by Israel.

The deployment comes amid "efforts to preserve Egyptian national security", Egypt's statement added.

'Wide range of coordination'

Authorities have since February 2018 been conducting a nationwide operation against militants, mainly focused on North Sinai and the country's Western Desert.

This August, Egypt published a video of soldiers killing sleeping, unarmed men there, after which rights group Amnesty International called for a probe into what it described as "extrajudicial killings".

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Around 1,073 suspected fighters and dozens of security personnel have been killed since the start of operations, according to official figures.

In a rare public admission of close security cooperation with the Israelis, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi told CBS in 2019 that "the air force sometimes needs to cross to the Israeli side" adding "that's why we have a wide range of coordination with the Israelis".

In September, Sisi met with Israeli Prime Minister Nafatali Bennett in the southern Sinai resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh, the first visit in over a decade by an Israeli head of government. 

Cairo also played a key role in negotiating a ceasefire in May between Israel and Hamas, who govern Gaza, to end 11 days of fighting.

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