SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt -- Amid tears of sorrow and shouts of joy, Israel lowered its flag over the Sinai after 15 years Sunday and returned the desert region to Egypt with pledges from both sides of peace forever.
'No more war. No more bloodshed,' Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin said in a joint TV program with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, echoing the words of the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. 'Peace forever. Salaam.'
'Salaam' is the Arabic word for 'peace.'
'Tomorrow,' Mubarak said, 'a new dawn will break and the banners of peace will be hoisted forever.'
Neither Begin nor Mubarak attended the ceremonies in Sharm el Sheikh and Rafah that restored all of the desert to Egyptian control for the first time since it was captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
But Mubarak did telephone Begin to congratualte him on the Israeli withdrawal that was completed as scheduled.
President Reagan, praising the 'risks they have taken to advance the cause of peace in the Mideast,' also spoke with Begin and Mubarak to congratulate them, the White House said.
Israeli soldiers wept, sang their national anthem, 'Hatikvah' - 'The Hope' -and watched their blue and white flag lowered for the last time over the 23,000 square mile peninsula, the scene of five wars in 34 years.
'We are not retreating from Sinai,' Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said in an Order of the Day read out in all army camps. 'We are demonstrating our desire to move toward peace.'
'We are leaving the Sinai primarily for our own sake, for the sake of our children, and for future generations to see ... that our hand is extended to peace,' an Israeli army general identified only by his first name as Aharon said.
Five hours later at the Egyptian ceremony near Rafah, a divided border town in the northeastern Sinai, 300 people shouted, 'Long Live Egypt.' An eternal flame was lighted with torches carried across the Sinai by Egyptian runners.
The Egyptian governor of southern Sinai, Lt. Gen. Fuad Aziz Ghali, a hero of the 1973 war, wept as he raised the red, white and black Egyptian flag at Rafah.
The pullback was carried out on schedule under the terms of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty after an intensive U.S. diplomatic effort in the last two weeks to iron out last minute problems between the two countries.
U.S., Israeli and Egyptian negotiators continued work on resolving a dispute over a 700-yard-wide swath of land at Taba, near Eilat in southern Israel, where an Israeli tourist complex is being built.
Sharon, referring to the traumatic demolition of Israeli settlements before the pullback, pledged, 'We shall increase settlement in the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria -- the West Bank -- and the Gaza district.'
In the occupied West Bank, Israeli troops lobbed tear gas and fired in the air to disperse demonstrators who seized a police station in the northern town of Tubas to protest the peace treaty. One local Arab policeman was injured.
The pullback began at Sharm El Sheikh, at the southern tip of the Sinai, where Israel had built a beachside resort and a naval base.
An Israeli army captain lowered his country's flag. A burly sergeant major assumed command, dismissing the honor guard. He then walked away, sat down on a rock, cupped his face in his hands and crumpled in tears.
Hours later at Rafah,Palestinian youths stoned Israeli soldiers lowering their flag and then cheered entering Egyptian vehicles.
Stacked coils of barbed wire split Shara street, Rafah's main thoroughfare, and wire mesh fences capped with barbed wire divided the town. About 20,000 of Rafah's residents now live in Egypt and 60,000 in occupied Gaza.
A busload of 15 civilian squatters who had snuck back into the Sinai were herded out singing. 'We will be back,' one of them shouted, 'It's our land.'
But Begin warned on NBC's Meet the Press that if Egypt should violate the peace treaty, 'then Israel's reaction will be swift.
The Israeli leader also sent a telegram to Sadat's widow, Jihan, saying her late husband 'should have been with us to see the crowning glory of his efforts to make peace and achieve reconciliation.'