March 31, 2010 Wednesday 16 Nisan 5770 9:06 IST
Photo by: Ariel Jerozolimski
Egypt expands anti-smuggling efforts to Sudanese border
By YAAKOV KATZ
Defense Ministry official says significant forces have been deployed with the aim of preventing the smuggling of weapons to Hamas.
Egypt has expanded its efforts to prevent weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip via its southern border with Sudan, which is where trucks make their way from port cities along Africa’s Red Sea coast to the Philadelphi Corridor, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
According to a senior Defense Ministry official, the Egyptian military deployed significant forces along the Egyptian-Sudanese border several weeks ago with the aim of preventing the smuggling of weapons to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
One of the main routes used by Iran to smuggle weapons to Hamas in Gaza starts at ships which dock in ports in Eritrea and Sudan. The cargo is unloaded onto trucks which travel through the Sudanese desert, up thorough Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula until they reach the Philadelphi Corridor, a 14-kilometer strip along the border which is home to hundreds of smuggling tunnels used by Hamas to move weapons and explosives into Gaza.
According to the official, the turning point for Egypt which reinforced its decision to crack down on Hamas’s smuggling apparatus was in January when Hamas shot and killed an Egyptian border guard. Following the incident, Egypt also stepped up its work on the steel underground wall it is building along the Philadelphi Corridor to cut off the tunnels.
Work on the wall started in late 2009 and is being done with assistance from American military engineers who have helped the Egyptians bury special tunnel-detection sensors along the underground metal wall. The Egyptians have already built close to two km. of the wall and will likely complete the construction by the end of the year. The wall reaches depths of about 25 meters.
“Egypt is now operating against the entire smuggling route,” the senior Defense Ministry official said. “They are building the wall along the border with Gaza and have beefed up military forces along the border with Sudan.”
The new forces include infantry troops and armored vehicles which patrol the border, mostly the main roads leading from Sudan into Egypt, and inspect suspicious trucks and vehicles.
According to foreign reports, in January 2009, on the sidelines of Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, Israel Air Force jets bombed a convoy of trucks that was traveling through the Sudanese desert and was carrying advanced weaponry destined for Hamas in Gaza.
While Israel was impressed by the renewed Egyptian efforts, another senior official said that Israel expected Egypt to take more action to uncover tunnels and to completely stop arms smuggling into Gaza.
Hamas is believed to have more rockets today than before Operation Cast Lead in 2009, particularly long-range rockets that are capable of reaching Tel Aviv.