U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Egypt’s foreign minister to keep lines of communication open with Israel amid tensions over an Egyptian push against militants in the neighboring Sinai desert, the State Department said on Thursday.
Clinton spoke with Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr on Wednesday and stressed the importance of acting transparently as Cairo deploys aircraft and tanks in Sinai, for the first time since a 1973 war with Israel, to pursue Islamist militants blamed for killing 16 border guards in an August 5 attack.
“This call was in keeping with a series of contacts we’ve had in recent days with both Egyptians and Israelis encouraging both sides to keep the lines of communication open,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Israeli officials have expressed concern over the Egyptian deployment, saying the vehicles’ entry into the Sinai was not coordinated and was in violation of a 1979 peace treaty.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has not lodged a formal protest, preferring to try and resolve the issue in quiet contacts including U.S. mediation to avoid worsening ties with Cairo, already strained since Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular revolt last year.
Nuland said the Sinai security situation should be addressed “in a way that first and foremost strengthens Egypt’s security but also has a positive impact on the security of neighbors and the region as a whole.”
Nuland declined to say whether the United States believed Egypt had been insufficiently transparent or failed to keep Israel informed.
“Our view is that effective mechanisms do exist and that they just need to continue to be used,” she said.
The U.S.-brokered 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel sets strict limits on military deployment in the Sinai, which is designated as a demilitarized buffer zone.
But Israeli media have speculated that coordination with Egypt may suffer after a shakeup this month of Egypt’s military, including Islamist President Mohammed Mursi’s dismissals of officials Israel had long been in contact with.
Reporting By Andrew Quinn; Editing by Vicki Allen