Egypt moves to seal Gaza tunnels after border attack (REUTERS) By Yusri Mohamed RAFAH, Egypt 08/07/12 11:07pm EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - Egypt began to seal off smuggling tunnels into the Gaza
Strip on Tuesday, a security source said, two days after gunmen shot
dead 16 Egyptian border guards in an attack blamed partly on
Crowds of angry mourners wept at the military funeral of the slain
guards in Cairo after the deadliest assault along Egypt´s tense Sinai
Peninsula border with Israel and Gaza in decades.
Lawlessness in the rugged desert has spread since the fall of
autocrat Hosni Mubarak in an uprising 18 months ago and the election
of an Islamist successor whose commitment to security co-operation
with Israel has yet to be tested.
A Reuters reporter in the border town of Rafah said heavy equipment
was brought to the Egyptian side of the tunnels, which are used to
smuggle people to and from Gaza as well as food and fuel that are a
lifeline for the small territory´s population.
"The campaign aims at closing all the openings between Egypt and the
Gaza Strip that are used in smuggling operations," said the security
Security forces on Tuesday stormed the homes of several Egyptians in
the northern Sinai town of al-Arish who were suspected to have ties
with jihadi groups, and detained them pending investigations,
according to security sources in Sinai.
Several Palestinian residents in the town who did not have official
permits to enter Egypt were also taken to police stations for
questioning, the sources said.
The government in Cairo said the gunmen behind Sunday´s attack had
reached Egypt via the Gaza smuggling tunnels.
Israel says Palestinian jihadi groups have been crossing from Gaza
into Egypt and exploiting the security vacuum there by teaming up
with local militants with the aim of attacking Israel´s long border
running south to the Red Sea.
Sinai-based militants sworn to destroying Israel have repeatedly
attacked a gas pipeline to the Jewish state as well as Egyptian
police stations and security checkpoints. Eight Israelis have been
killed in border attacks in the past year.
New Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi quickly pledged to bring the
region back under government control after Sunday´s attack, the worst
since Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979, ending a succession of
No one has claimed responsibility. The Egyptian army said 35
militants were involved and that mortar bombs fired from Gaza landed
in the area during the operation.
"Extensive meetings are currently taking place between top officials
in the army, interior ministry and border guard to come up with a
plan to detect and find the criminals behind Sunday´s attacks," a
Cairo security source said.
Sealing the tunnels will be an uncomfortable move for Mursi who has
brought Egypt closer to the Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza
since he came to power in June, promising to help improve the life of
Hamas, also hostile to Israel but seen as too moderate by jihadi
groups, has condemned the killings of the Egyptians and has said it
is sealing the tunnels from its side while helping Egypt to identify
those behind the attack.
In a statement on Tuesday, the office of Ismail Haniyeh, the prime
minister of the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, said he had
phoned Mursi to deny involvement in the attack and suggest forming a
permanent joint security committee.
Mubarak was a staunch U.S. ally who co-operated closely with Israel
to help ensure its security and suppressed Islamists including
Mursi´s Muslim Brotherhood, which rejected violence to achieve its
goals but often voiced hostility to Israel.
Mursi took office promising to uphold peace with Israel, and the
Israelis are looking nervously for proof that he will be as co-
operative as Mubarak. His response to the attacks will help define
Egypt´s new relationship with Israel.
Israel sent condolences to Egypt over the attack and sent back the
charred bodies of five attackers and an Egyptian soldier who had been
forced to drive the vehicle that stormed the crossing into Israel,
Egyptian medical sources said.
Mursi announced a state of national mourning, visited the scene of
the attack and on Tuesday met some of the seven soldiers injured in
the assault in a Cairo military hospital.
Roads were blocked on Tuesday near the main military mosque in Cairo,
which was packed with mourners who shouted and jostled to be near the
coffins of the dead security guards draped in Egyptian flags.
Outside, hundreds prayed in the midday sun.
Thousands, many holding flowers, had gathered by the time the bodies
were carried from the mosque for burial.
Some mourners who held Mursi´s administration responsible for the
deaths rushed at Prime Minister Hisham Kandil and some Islamist
politicians as they left the mosque.
"You killed them you dogs", they shouted, trying to hit the
politicians with their shoes. Mursi did not attend the ceremony.
Any firm proof that the attack was planned and executed from Gaza
could be inconvenient for Mursi given the Brotherhood´s ties to
Hamas. The Brotherhood blamed Israeli intelligence for the attack.
Israel dismissed that.
"If the attackers came from the Gaza Strip, that would be very
embarrassing for the Brotherhood," said a Western diplomat. "Rather
than allow that to grow in people´s minds, they thought they could
say this was an Israeli false flag."
The Brotherhood also said it was "imperative to review clauses" of
the 1979 peace deal, which limited the presence of troops in the
border zone, echoing recent calls from politicians and commentators
for changes to the treaty.
But Mursi´s spokesman Yasser Ali said on Tuesday that the president
had stressed his commitment to the peace agreement.
Israel indicated that no changes were needed, saying it had agreed in
the past to Egyptian requests to deploy more troops.
"We proposed aid to them, also to investigate and we also handed over
the bodies of the six terrorists. At the moment we are waiting,"
Israel´s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Israeli radio on
(Additional reporting by Tamim Elyan and Yasmine Saleh in Cairo,
Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by
Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Pravin Char) (© Thomson
Reuters 2012. 08/07/12)
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