construction rafah 248 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Egypt has denied claims that it is building an underground steel barrier along its border with the Gaza Strip in order to seal off smuggling tunnels, Al-Jazeera reported on Friday.
While eyewitnesses in Rafah, a town divided between Egypt and Gaza, recounted sighting bulldozers, sophisticated equipment and workers inserting long slabs of steel into the ground in the border area, sources in Egypt told the Arab news agency that any construction work in the area was routine and was being conducted for maintenance purposes.
Hamas claimed on Friday that Egypt was indeed building such a barrier. "We in Hamas can't believe that Egypt would put barriers between us," Yehiye Mousa, a lawmaker belonging to the terrorist organization, was quoted as saying. "We know that Egypt is under American and international pressure, but we hope that this is not true. We demand that Egypt open its border." According to reports that have reached the IDF, Egypt is currently in the initial stages of building an underground metal wall that will reach a depth of 16 meters, as part of an effort to cut off smuggling tunnels used by Hamas to bring advanced weaponry into Gaza.
A resident of Rafah said Thursday that Egyptian crews near his home were clearing a dirt corridor about 90 yards from the border over the past 20 days. The man who identified himself only by his first name, Ashraf, for fear of harassment, said they were drilling holes about 20 yards deep and filling them with sand.
A Gaza security official said he has seen drilling machines operating on the other side of the border, equipped with an attachment to hoist metal. He said the workers are installing metal into the trenches at night.
The official and a Hamas border guard said the Egyptians have been digging for the past 17 days in the area where the borders of Egypt,Israel and Gaza meet. They said they dig during the day and put metal into the ground at night. Both men requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the subject.
Government officials did not return calls seeking comment.
On Thursday, heavy drilling machinery could be seen operating on the Egyptian side of the border. Nonetheless, tunnels were active on the Gaza side with Palestinian smugglers lowering themselves into the deep shafts.
A US Embassy official in Cairo denied there was American involvement in any barrier project on the border.