Egypt's foreign minister praised Israel Monday for surrendering a disputed border enclave to Egypt, saying he hopes the episode can help push peace efforts in the Middle East.
Esmat Abdel-Meguid spoke to reporters 12 hours after Egyptian, Israeli and American officials signed accords to end by mid-March Israel's 15-year occupation of Taba, a 250-acre beach resort on the northern tip of the Red Sea."Egypt's resumption of sovereignty over Taba is a victory for peace and supports the possibilities of the peace process," Abdel-Meguid said. "It is proof that if serious determination and good will is available, disputes can be resolved by peaceful ways."
One agreement signed at Taba's Sonesta hotel stipulates that the Egyptians pay the hotel's Israeli owner $37 million. Another set a price of $1.15 million for a nearby holiday village of beach cabanas and a cafeteria.
The agreements give all tourists, including Israelis, 14 days' access without visas from Israel to Taba and southern Sinai on display of passports but without a visa.
They also put the border between Egypt and Israel back to its position prior to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, when the Jewish state occupied the Sinai peninsula.
Taba became an irritant in Egyptian-Israeli relations in 1982 when, during its withdrawal from the Sinai, Israel refused to give up the tiny patch of beach. After years of fruitless negotiation, the two former Middle East foes decided in 1986 to let international arbitrators decide Taba's fate.
On Sept. 29, the arbitration committee ruled that Taba be returned to Egypt but left open the fate of the beachfront. Except for the tourist facilities, the enclave includes virtually nothing but barren rock and sand hills.
After obtaining easy access for its tourists, Israel finally signed Sunday's series of agreements that will put Taba back in Egyptian hands by noon March 15.
At the 40-minute signing ceremony, Egyptian, Israeli and American delegates expressed similar hopes that future disputes between Israel and its Arab neighbors be solved through negotiations.