IDF backs Rafah barrier proposal

Defense official: If Egypt promises halt to smuggling, we could stop Cast Lead by end of week.

IDF APC gaza border 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
IDF APC gaza border 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Defense officials told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that Egypt had made progress in its talks with Hamas and that the head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, Amos Gilad, would head to Cairo on Thursday to evaluate the cease-fire proposal and present Israel's conditions. The officials said Jerusalem was hoping to secure a guarantee from the Egyptians that they would invest resources and efforts in stopping the weapons smuggling from Sinai into the Gaza Strip under the Philadelphi Corridor. One Israeli proposal, supported by the IDF, calls for the erection of a barrier surrounding the Egyptian side of Rafah, to be manned by Egyptian soldiers who will not allow weapons smugglers into the town. Israel has proposed a barrier consisting of two fences surrounding the Philadelphi Corridor and encompassing Egyptian Rafah, which would be accessible by a single road controlled by the military. The idea was suggested several years ago by then-National Security Council head Giora Eiland. "If the Egyptians provide us with guarantees that the smuggling will stop, the operation could be over by the end of the week," a top defense official told the Post. "It is all up to the Egyptians right now." Gilad will hold talks on Thursday with Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman, and one of the issues will be an Egyptian request to increase the number of soldiers it has deployed along the border from 750 to several thousand. Gilad has expressed fierce opposition to the request, but other defense officials in Israel said Tuesday that the request to relax the troop limits set by the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty needed to be considered. "It is unclear why Amos Gilad is so adamantly against allowing Egypt to increase its force along Philadelphi," one official said. "If this is what the Egyptians want, then why not just give it to them?" While diplomatic activity picked up speed on Tuesday, the IDF continued to push deeper into Gaza City as reservist units took over responsibility for several areas in the Strip. At least 50 Hamas gunmen were killed since Monday evening. Rocket fire also dwindled, with some 15 rockets and mortar shells striking Israel - the lowest since Operation Cast Lead was launched on December 27 - by Tuesday evening. "The operation is continuing on its 18th day with the aim of restoring quiet for southerners and curbing weapons smuggling," Barak said Tuesday. "We are working on both these goals, with an eye on diplomatic initiatives." Lt. Aharon Karov from the Battalion 890 of the Paratroopers Brigade was critically wounded by an explosion inside a booby-trapped home in northern Gaza during a early-morning operation. Two other soldiers sustained light wounds, and by evening, the officer's condition had slightly improved following an intensive and complicated operation. Karov, a resident of Karnei Shomron, was called up to join the fighting in Gaza a day after his wedding, less than two weeks ago. Meanwhile, the IDF commenced heavy shelling of targets on Gaza City's outskirts early Tuesday, as soldiers continued to push deeper into the urban center. Ground troops battled Palestinian gunmen in a densely populated Gaza City neighborhood. Military sources said the objective of Operation Cast Lead - weakening Hamas and restoring Israel's deterrence - had not yet been accomplished, and that the army would continue its push into Gaza City to hunt down Hamas operatives and infrastructure. The purpose of deepening the operation, officials said, was to increase the pressure on Hamas and to buy time to see if the Egyptian proposal materialized into a cease-fire. Overnight in northern Gaza, Hamas gunmen fired at troops from a mosque. The soldiers returned fire, and the IAF then bombed the mosque's courtyard after spotting the armed men. The air force bombed some 60 targets overnight, including seven weapons storehouses, 15 Kassam launch pads and 10 Hamas outposts. On Tuesday, an additional 50 targets were hit, including 30 tunnels.