(photo credit: AP)
Amid concerns that terrorists were allowed to leave Gaza and travel abroad for training in Iran, Israel has filed a complaint with Cairo after Egypt allowed 1,700 Palestinians to pass through the Rafah Crossing to make the haj pilgrimage to Mecca.
On Monday, for the first time since Hamas's violent takeover of Gaza in June, Egypt unilaterally opened the Rafah border terminal and allowed 700 Palestinians, who claimed to be religious pilgrims on their way to Mecca, to pass through. On Tuesday, another 1,000 crossed through the terminal.
"This is a clear breach of agreements we have made with the Egyptians," a senior diplomatic official said Wednesday, in reference to the November 2005 agreement under which the Rafah Crossing was opened. The official said the unilateral opening of the border had been preceded by another breach of agreements in October, when Egypt allowed 85 Hamas operatives to cross back into Gaza after cutting a hole in the border fence.
IDF intelligence estimates released Wednesday indicated that up to a couple of dozen Hamas terrorists were among the so-called pilgrims Egypt allowed out of the Gaza Strip. In recent years, hundreds of Hamas terrorists have traveled abroad to Iran and Lebanon for military training, and officials said it was possible that these terrorists would do the same.
Once the 1,700 Palestinians return to the border to reenter Gaza, they will join another 2,000 Palestinians who have been waiting near the border crossing since Hamas seized control of the Strip in June. Military Intelligence believes there are a number of wanted terrorists within that group as well.
In response to the increasing number of violations, the Foreign Ministry filed a harsh complaint with Cairo, and senior defense officials are scheduled to travel to Egypt in the coming week for talks about the recent events.
In addition to allowing Palestinians to pass through the Rafah Crossing, Israel is also upset with the Egyptians' continued failure to curb the smuggling of weapons and explosives via tunnels into the Gaza Strip. According to recent assessments, since Hamas's takeover, the terror group has smuggled into Gaza 100 tons of explosives, millions of bullets, hundreds of anti-tank missiles and even a small number of Katyusha rockets.
A delegation of American military engineers recently toured the Egyptian side of the Philadelphi Corridor and was shown a number of tunnels that the Egyptians tried to portray as being too small for weapons-smuggling. According to Israeli officials, the delegation was not convinced and demanded that Cairo take more decisive action against the smuggling industry.
"We have no doubt that if they only wanted to, they are capable of curbing the smuggling," a defense official said.
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