Israel Egypt border 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Defense Minister Amir Peretz on Sunday denied media reports that Egypt has reinforced its troops along the Gaza border.
There only Egyptian forces there are 750 border policemen, Peretz told the cabinet at its weekly meeting.
Peretz's words came in direct contradiction to reports Saturday from both Israel media and foreign news agencies that Egypt was sending approximately 5,000 additional border police to the area. According to the reports, this was being done in response to an Israeli media report that the IDF was considering using precise "smart bombs" to destroy weapons smuggling tunnels between Sinai and the Gaza Strip.
His statement was supported by government sources in Israel and Egypt, who told The Jerusalem Post the report was false and that reinforcing the border force would violate the agreement from September 2005 that allows 750 Egyptian border policemen to be stationed along the Philadelphi Corridor, the 13-kilometer border between Egypt and Gaza.
A government source in Egypt said journalists might have misunderstood the movement of police officers in the area to mean that their numbers were being augmented. He added that the story originated in the Israeli media.
Still, as of Sunday, The Associated Press continued to report that 5,000 policemen were rushed to the border over the weekend.
The IDF tried to calm fears in Egypt Sunday that Israel is planning a bombing campaign with using smart bombs, saying any military action in the area would be coordinated with Cairo. An Israeli military official declined comment on the report, but said the army would not initiate a major air campaign without informing Egypt.
"The Egyptians will be notified ahead of time about everything that will happen on Philadelphi," the official said.
Weapons smuggling across the border has increased dramatically since last year's disengagement from Gaza. A recent IDF offensive in the area resulted in the destruction of 15 tunnels.
Defense officials said Israel was not planning to use any new weapons against the tunnels. Instead it plans to step up the existing practice of bombing them with explosives that penetrate several meters into the earth - not deep enough to reach the tunnels, but deep enough to disrupt their construction.
In Sunday's cabinet meeting, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai said the Philadelphi Corridor must be reoccupied because of the large increase in weapons smuggling.
Peretz told the ministers he was upset by false reports that former OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yom-Tov Samia had been appointed as deputy chief of that unit. He said a proposal to this effect was under review but that he had not approved it, nor had the committee that deals with such matters in the IDF.
According to the IDF, Samia is a reservist in the Southern Command, a talented professional who is providing it with assistance in various areas. Samia was apparently called up for reserve duty to advise the unit.
Given that he is in uniform, comments he made Sunday to Israel Radio on military and diplomatic matters angered Interior Minister Roni Bar-On. He wanted to know why Samia was not reprimanded.
Peretz told the cabinet that he had ordered Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz to summon Samia to explain his comments.
Samia told Israel Radio earlier Sunday, "Even during Oslo - with the leftists, extremists and the biggest proponents for the Palestinian cause - even according to all agreements during Oslo, the Philadelphi Route and the Jordan [Valley] were under no circumstances supposed to be handed over to the Palestinians, because they bordered a third country."
When asked if it was possible for Israel to turn back the clock, Samia said that it was not only possible, "it was crucial" for the IDF to return to the strategic border road.
Peretz also told the cabinet that he took a "grave view" of recent comments by other senior officers to the media regarding the IDF's operational plans.