'Egypt launching tunnel-detection unit'

Commandos trained to enter tunnels and destroy them; US engineers visit Philadelphi Corridor.

gaza tunnel 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
gaza tunnel 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Egyptian military is establishing a commando unit to detect and destroy tunnels used to smuggle weapons and explosives from Sinai into the Gaza Strip, Israeli defense officials said on Sunday. In April, US-made tunnel detection systems are scheduled to be deployed along the Philadelphi Corridor to be used by the Egyptian forces to destroy the tunnels. A top defense official told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the Egyptians were also setting up a small team of elite soldiers who would enter the tunnels, plant explosives inside and destroy them. Until now, after locating tunnels the Egyptians would only destroy their entrance way, allowing Palestinians to reconnect to the tunnel through a new opening. The Egyptian unit was trained by a team of American engineers who recently visited Israel and then the Philadelphi Corridor. The team met with members from the IDF's Engineering Corps and subsequently passed on critical information needed to detect tunnels to the Egyptian forces. The information-sharing mechanism was agreed upon during Defense Minister Ehud Barak's visit to Sharm e-Sheikh in December for talks with Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and President Hosni Mubarak. The new tunnel unit joins assessments in the defense establishment of increased Egyptian efforts to prevent arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip, an issue that has been at the center of recent talks between Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, and Suleiman. The IDF has been highly critical of Egyptian efforts for the past year, saying Cairo was not doing enough to stop the smuggling across the Philadelphi Corridor, where it had deployed 750 policemen following Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005. According to the senior defense official, Egypt began significantly increasing its efforts to stop the smuggling after Gazans fired Grad-model Katyusha rockets at Ashkelon late last month. The defense officials said Sunday that it was possible that Suleiman, who canceled two trips to Israel earlier this month, would visit in the coming weeks. The Israeli officials said Suleiman was waiting for the outcome of the current talks with Hamas on a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip before visiting Israel. Also on Sunday, Egyptian officials said a Palestinian man was trapped in one of the smuggling tunnels. His man was unclear. An Egyptian security official said the tunnel collapsed and the man was killed. But a Palestinian official said he had simply been overcome by fumes from the gasoline he was smuggling overnight. AP contributed to this report