In what is seen here as a major victory, an international arbitration panel has awarded a swath of land on the Sinai Peninsula, claimed by both Egypt and Israel, to the Egyptians. The ruling by the five-man panel in Geneva is binding and puts to rest a nine-year battle between Cairo and Jerusalem over the 700 yards of beachfront beach at Taba. Israel refused to return it to Egypt after its final withdrawal from Sinai in 1982.
If the Israelis abide by the decision, relations between the two countries could significantly improve. If the Israelis balk, relations could seriously deteriorate. Egyptian officials say they expect Israel to comply.
Almost two years after Egypt and Israel agreed to forward the dispute to arbitration, the panel announced its decision at a news conference in Geneva. According to informed sources, President Hosni Mubarak personally ordered editors of the major goverment-owned newspapers to speed to Geneva for the announcement.
In Cairo, state minister for foreign affairs Butrous Ghali said Egypt welcomed the ruling as ``a victory for justice, legality, and international law.''
``It's a boost for President Mubarak, especially if the Israelis deliver,'' says Ahmad Bahaeddin, a respected columnist for the semi-offical newspaper Al Ahram. ``Mubarak will take the credit.''
The Taba victory is fortunate for Mr. Mubarak because it comes at time of severe economic strain and increasing militancy among Islamic fundamentalists opposed to Egypt's secular government, and to its peace treat with Israel.