Egyptian police uncovers 1.2 tons of explosives in Rafah

Egyptian intel chief Suleiman meets top Iranian rep ahead of Barak visit; US senator Specter: stopping smugglings condition for aid.

Egyptian police arrested early Wednesday a weapons smuggler and found in his house near the border with Israel more than half a ton of explosives and 1,200 kilograms of potassium nitrate used in making bombs, a security official said. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is 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. Meanwhile, Defense Mininster Ehud Barak landed in Sharm Wednesday morning for talks throughout the day with President Hosni Mubarak and Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman. Barak was accompanied by Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i as well as Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry Diplomatic-Security Branch. Barak is set to discuss security issues, including the the issue of weapons smuggling, with Mubarak and Suleiman. On Tuesday, Suleiman met with Iran's former Iranian top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, and the two discussed "regional and international matters," including in the Palestinian territories, the Iranian News Agency reported. A top member of Defense Minister Ehud Barak's delegation told reporters en-route Wednesday morning to Sharm e-Sheikh that despite Egyptian requests, Israel has no intention of allowing an increase the number of troops that have been stationed along the Philadelphi corridor. "750 soldiers are enough to stop the smugglings along Rafah," a member of Barak's delegation said. "Everywhere in [Egypt] there is quiet, except for the corridor." The official downplayed media reports of a rise in the level of tension between Jerusalem and Cairo over a report in The Jerusalem Post last week that the defense establishment had sent out videotapes showing Egyptian soldiers assisting Hamas smugglers. The official said that Barak's visit was part of an ongoing strategic battle between the two countries and that the issues to be discussed included the Iranian nuclear threat, the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, the fate of kidnapped soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit, as well as other regional security issues. Also on Wednesday, an influential US lawmaker said US aid to Egypt should hinge on its cracking down on weapons smuggling into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Sen. 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. AP and staff contributed to this report.