Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 19:57 pm (KSA) 16:57 pm (GMT)

Egypt discards criticism on arms smuggling

Israeli FM Tzipi Livni (file).
Israeli FM Tzipi Livni (file).

Egypt on Tuesday rejected Israeli criticism of its efforts to clamp down on arms smuggling into Gaza, also announcing the discovery of two tunnels.

The foreign ministry said in a statement it "completely rejects" accusations by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that Egypt's actions along its border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip were "problematic."

"The Israeli minister would do better to concentrate on negotiation efforts with the Palestinians... instead of speaking without weighing her words about things she should not deal with without having enough information," it said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has accused Egypt of doing a "terrible" job in trying to stop arms smuggling into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, warning of implications for the whole region.

Israel has delivered to U.S. officials a video tape that shows Egyptian police officers helping weapons smugglers cross the border into the Gaza Strip, Israeli media reported Monday.

The tape was sent to Washington through diplomatic channels to pressure Egypt to act more forcefully against the smugglers, Israel TV said.

Senior Israeli defense officials said they have long believed that Egyptian forces are involved in smuggling arms into Gaza. But they didn't know about the tape. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. They believe Hamas has stepped up arms smuggling since it violently seized control of Gaza in June.

Islamist Hamas took control of Gaza in June, prompting Israel to tighten its military and economic cordon around the coastal territory.

But Israel says Hamas has been able to smuggle in weapons and ammunition, mostly through tunnels under the so-called Philadelphi Corridor that separates Egypt and Gaza.

"Egyptian actions in the war against smuggling in the Philadelphi Corridor are terrible and definitely have implications for future problems in the region, such as the arming of Hamas in Gaza," Livni was quoted by an Israeli parliamentary spokesman as telling a key committee.

Livni's remarks came days before Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is scheduled to visit the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Arms smuggling and a recent Hamas offer for a truce are expected to be on the agenda.

The Egyptian government says it is doing its best with the personnel it is allowed to deploy at the border under the 1979 peace treaty and a subsequent agreement with Israel.

An Egyptian security official in the border town of Rafah questioned the authenticity of the Israeli tape and repeated Egypt's insistence that it does all it can to secure the border.

"It is impossible to film any video of any activity on the borders, because there are about 750 border guards," he said. "If there was suspicious action, other guards would inform their superiors. There are also border vehicles conducting patrols on the frontiers around the clock," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Egypt often acts as a mediator between Israel and Hamas.

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