Egypt moves 5 000 troops near Gaza border
Egypt moved 5 000 more security forces near the Gaza Strip border on Saturday after an Israeli report said Israel may bomb tunnels used for smuggling weapons into Palestinian territories, an Egyptian official said.
“They requested reinforcements after the Israeli report and also citing fears of Palestinian militants breaching the border wall between the Gaza Strip and Egypt,” the official told Reuters in Cairo.
The 5 000 Egyptians were members of the police’s central security force. They joined about 750 border guards already deployed along the area known as the Philadelphi Corridor, fearing the possible operation’s impact on civilians living on the Egyptian side of the border.
The Israeli daily newspaper Maariv reported on Friday that precision-guided weapons would be used to penetrate deep underground in the hope of destroying the tunnel network that the Jewish state says riddles the area, which is 14km long and approximately 100m wide.
The decision to use “smart” bombs may be a substitute to reoccupying the entire region, the newspaper said. Israel says it has been unable to control weapons smuggling into Gaza since it withdrew its forces from the coastal strip last year.
“We are following the situation with extreme concern and we have not received any warnings from the Israeli side about this operation,” one Egyptian official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Israeli army declined to comment on the report.
An Israeli military source said later on Saturday: “Anything that will take place along the Philadelphi Corridor will be reported to the Egyptian authorities in advance.”
A Palestinian security official in Gaza denied reports of further Egyptian forces being deployed along the border line itself.
The official said after consultations with Egyptian counterparts, the number of border police remained at 750.
Israel started to target underground passages in the area after Palestinian militants tunnelled into Israel and captured one of its soldiers in a raid on June 25.
The operation also sparked an expanded Israeli military offensive that killed more than 250 Palestinians, about half of them civilians.
Maariv reported the air force was given the green light to drop bombs after a similar campaign successfully destroyed tunnels along the northern Gaza border with Israel.
Egyptian security and border officials said the possible Israeli operation could threaten around 20 000 civilians who live close to the border.
“There are schools, banks, markets and residential buildings close to the border with Gaza, which makes the use of such bombs more dangerous,” one official said.
Several Egyptian civilians were killed and many wounded from cross-border bomb shrapnel during Israeli attacks on the Palestinian border town of Rafah before the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Egyptian police recently seized 195 crates of automatic weapons and ammunition meant to be smuggled across the border and the Israeli army said its troops discovered 15 tunnels along the border during the past week.
Israel estimates that tonnes of munitions, including advanced shoulder-fire missiles, have been smuggled into Gaza through the tunnels, though they have presented scarce evidence that Gaza militants use such weaponry. - Reuters