Israel Egypt border 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Defense Minister Amir Peretz denied in Sunday's cabinet meeting reports that several thousand Egyptian state security guards had deployed along the Philadelphi Route.
"Beyond the 750 border guards in the area, no troops have been added," Peretz said.
Late Saturday, security officials announced that as many as 5,000 Egyptian guards had taken up posts near the Egypt-Gaza border after reports of a possible Israeli "smart bomb" attack on suspected smuggling tunnels.
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While the reports had indicated the deploying forces were Egyptian army soldiers, officials stressed Sunday that was not the case, and the forces consisted of state security police, a paramilitary-like force often used in Egypt to maintain order.
The security police usually are stationed in towns in the Sinai peninsula. They were redeployed Saturday to fan out across the northern peninsula, patrolling roads in and out of border towns and setting up checkpoints, an Egyptian interior ministry official said in Cairo.
In response to earlier news agency reports that the Egyptians were amassing forces along the border, a senior Israeli security official told The Jerusalem Post: "We are more than happy if Egypt exercises its sovereignty and prevents smuggling under the Philadelphi Route.
Israel is in favor of coordination and is looking forward to Egypt taking more serious actions into illegal smuggling into Gaza," the official said.
With respect to the plan to use precision-guided "smart bombs" to destroy the smuggling tunnels, he said that such a plan had not been approved or even presented as of yet to Defense Minister Amir Peretz.
Meanwhile, the security forces fanned out across the northern Sinai peninsula, patrolling roads in and out of border towns and setting up checkpoints, an Egyptian interior ministry official said in Cairo.
Police were launching raids on suspected terrorist hideouts as well, he added on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Last week, the IDF said it had uncovered 15 weapons-smuggling tunnels burrowed under the Egypt-Gaza border.
Maariv reported Friday that Israel planned to use precision-guided weapons to destroy the tunnels. However, the Egyptian interior ministry official denied that the amassing of troops was in response to the report.
"This is considered a security precaution in Sinai, and it does not have anything to do with the latest media reports," he said.
The same official said he was aware of the Israeli report and that Egyptian authorities had their own intelligence information to verify it. He added Israel could be looking for an alternative to re-occupying Gaza, which it turned over to Palestinian control in 2005.
After Cpl. Gilad Shalit was captured by Hamas operatives on June 25, the IDF launched a massive operation into Gaza, where Shalit was believed to be held.
On Saturday, residents were forced to evacuate their homes and shops to make room for thousands of Egyptian troops moving into border regions, a Sinai security official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The official said Egypt had not given approval to any IDF attacks on suspected tunnels in the area, and that talks were planned between Israeli and Egyptian officials over the matter.
"There will be negotiations aimed at discouraging such a (bombing) operation, because thousands of local civilians will be subjected to danger," he said.
Other Egyptian security officials could not confirm that any talks were planned.