Egyptian FM complains of 'Israel lobby'

Barak: We don't pressure Congress; congressman: Aid to Cairo should hinge on stopping smuggling.

gheit 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
gheit 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
As Defense Minister Ehud Barak was meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Wednesday in Sharm e-Sheikh, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit accused an "Israel lobby" of attempting to harm Egypt-US relations by using the issue of smuggling across the Gaza border as an excuse to cut Washington's military aid to Cairo. "The latest months have seen the Israeli lobby's efforts to harm Egypt's interests with the Congress," Aboul Gheit told reporters. "The Israeli lobby inside the [US] Congress was behind some positions adopted by Congress and the Israeli media campaign in the last few months falls within this trend." An influential US lawmaker had said earlier that US aid to Egypt should hinge on its cracking down on weapons smuggling into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Senator Arlen Specter said he was upset by the smuggling, calling it "an intolerable situation" for Egypt to be "complicitous" in the smuggling. "Egypt can do a lot more," said Specter, a member of the US Senate Appropriations Committee. "And if they don't, I think it would be appropriate to condition aid to them." Washington gives Egypt about $2 billion in annual aid, including $1.3 billion in military assistance. Proposed legislation in the US Congress this year would have withheld $200 million of the military aid unless Egypt clamped down on weapons smuggling and improved its human rights record. But the aid package went through the US Senate uncurtailed. After his meeting with Mubarak, Barak was asked about The Jerusalem Post report from last week that Israel had sent videotapes to the US congress in an effort to pressure the legislative body into withholding parts of the foreign military aid to Egypt and said, "We do not push anything with congress, but respond when we are asked." Meanwhile, Egyptian security forces announced on Wednesday that they had arrested a weapons smuggler in Rafah and upon searching his house near the border with Gaza, found more than half a ton of explosives and 1,200 kilograms of potassium nitrate used in making bombs. An official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said police arrested Mahdi Salim Abu Freig, 21, after raiding his house in the el-Amir district of the Rafah border town at dawn. The official said Abu Freig confessed that he had smuggled weapons and explosives to the Gaza Strip through tunnels with the help of associates on the other side. Smuggling across the border into Gaza or Israel has long provided a livelihood for some Bedouins in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Weapons, cigarettes and foreigners seeking jobs in Israel are all taken secretly across the border. staff contributed to this report.