Egypt has suspended construction of an underground steel wall along the
Egypt-Gaza border that it had been building over the past year in an effort to
stop smuggling weaponry through tunnels into the Gaza Strip, defense officials
have told The Jerusalem Post.
According to the officials, Egypt suspended
construction of the underground barrier following the revolution in the country
in February which toppled Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
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Egypt began building
the underground barrier in late 2009 to a depth of about 20 meters and along 10
kilometers of the border, where most of the hundreds of smuggling tunnels which
serve as Hamas’s main conduit for weapons are located. While smugglers succeeded
in breaching the wall in some parts, Israeli officials said that it had been
partly effective in places where it was built by making it more difficult for
smugglers to dig tunnels across the border.
Israel has not lodged an
official complaint with the new Egyptian government led by Defense Minister
Muhammad Tantawi, but has urged Cairo to continue the previous government’s
tough position on smuggling and to work to take action to prevent the flow of
arms to the Gaza Strip.
News of the freeze on construction comes as
concern increases in Israel over an apparent strengthening of ties between Hamas
and the new Egyptian government. During a recent visit to Cairo, Mahmoud
al-Zahr, the so-called Hamas foreign minister, met not just with Egyptian
politicians but also with military and intelligence officials.
a new relationship between Hamas and Cairo today,” one senior official said.
“This is likely connected to the upcoming elections and the understanding in
Egypt that the Muslim Brotherhood is a strong player and as a result it is
important to maintain contacts with Hamas.”
Israel’s concerns are split
into two categories.
Firstly, it is worried that Cairo’s new relationship
with Hamas will come at the expense of its relationship with Israel. The second
concern has to do with security and the possibility that Egypt will turn a blind
eye to the movement of weaponry, cash and people across the
During 2010, for example, more than 160,000 people passed through
the Rafah Crossing into Egypt and Gaza.
That number is expected to grow
dramatically over the coming year.