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Egypt 'cracks down on Gaza tunnels'

Ma'an news


September 3, 2011

El-ARISH, Egypt (Ma'an) -- Egyptian forces on Saturday began destroying smuggling tunnels along the Gaza border, witnesses said.

Egyptian security officials told Ma'an that a crackdown on smuggling tunnels was "progressing steadily" and that detectors were being used to locate them.

So far, three tunnels have been located and destroyed, security sources said. The first tunnel was blown up with explosives while the other two were sealed with cement and rocks.

Previously Egyptian authorities used earth to seal the tunnels but smugglers were able to reopen them, officials said.

Security sources said Egyptian authorities ordered officers to move machinery from the Barahma area to Duhniyya and Jaradat south of Rafah, where new tunnels had been detected.

Meanwhile, high-profile Egyptian security sources said there had been secret talks between Egyptian authorities and Hamas.

Hamas was concerned that the Egyptians might destroy all the underground tunnels, the official said, adding that the meetings took place during Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hammad's recent visit to Cairo.

Egypt demanded that Hamas extradited some Palestinians suspected of involvement in recent attacks on police stations in El-Arish, and who established "terror groups" in Sinai, the source said.

Egyptian officials said Cairo had taken a major step in easing the blockade on Gaza by reopening the Rafah border crossing, while Hamas responded that the move was not enough to end the siege, according to security sources.

The sources said Egypt was destroying the tunnels "to protect national security from terrorism" after Palestinians infiltrated Sinai to help Jihadists turn the peninsula into an Islamic emirate.

"So, Egypt decided to destroy all the smuggling tunnels to put an end to smuggling and to get rid of all terrorist elements," the security officials said.

The tunnels, used to smuggle everything from cars and cattle to weapons, are estimated to number in the hundreds. Egypt has constructed an underground steel wall along part of the border to cut off the tunnels, with limited success.

There was no immediate official comment from Egypt's military, which is overseeing a sweeping campaign in Sinai to uproot Islamist militants behind attacks on police and a gas pipeline to Israel.

Israel's army has beefed up its deployment along the border with Egypt after intelligence warnings of more attacks like last month's ambushes in which gunmen who slipped in from Egypt's Sinai killed eight Israelis.

AFP contributed to this report.


:: Article nr. 81097 sent on 04-sep-2011 02:07 ECT


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