U.N. Agrees to Israeli-Egyptian Request Not to Cut Peacekeepers

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -

The U.S.-led peacekeeping force in the terrorist-wracked Sinai peninsula will remain unchanged after Egypt and Israel together rebuffed proposals to scale it back, an Egyptian official said on Tuesday.

The Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) and some of its 12 contributor countries have been considering changes to its deployment and mandate.

They worry about the safety of the almost 1,900 peacekeepers after six were wounded in September by a roadside bomb.

They have argued that dismantling more remote and vulnerable posts would not significantly set back the mission — especially at a time when Egypt and Israel say their counter-insurgency ties are closer than ever.

But both countries favor the MFO status quo and, at a review meeting held in Rome last week and attended by a U.S. delegation, they stood firm, according to one Egyptian official.

“We said this is not the proper time, during a war on terrorism. It would give jihadists the wrong message,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

“That was the main outcome: No talks about any reduction now.”

In arguing against any precautionary MFO drawdown, Egypt and Israel have said that the insurgents do not seem interested in attacking the foreign troops, who employ some 400 Sinai locals.