Egypt targets Gaza tunnels after attack
Published Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Egypt began work 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.
A Reuters reporter in the border town of Rafah said heavy equipment was brought to the area near the tunnels, which are used to smuggle people to and from Gaza but also food and fuel that are a lifeline for the 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 source.
Cairo also announced it had closed until further notice its Rafah crossing with the Gaza Strip, the only crossing to and from the territory not controlled by Israel.
Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi had sought to improve ties with the Hamas-ruled territory after coming to power in the country's first democratic elections in June.
His predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, cooperated with Israel in imposing a siege on Gaza.
Gazan businessmen said the decision would cripple the local economy.
"Our business will grind to a halt. It will hurt thousands of families of both tunnel owners and workers," Abu Mustafa, who owns a tunnel specializing in building materials, said.
The tunnels burrowed deep under Gaza's southern border with Egypt have provided thousands of Palestinians with a steady source of income over the years, despite the Israeli blockade.
In Sunday's attack, 35 gunmen in Bedouin clothing opened fire on Egyptian troops before crossing into the Jewish state in an armored vehicle, Egyptian officials said.
The attack left 16 Egyptian soldiers dead, while Israel killed several gunmen on its side of the border.
Egypt's defense minister led mourners in a military funeral for the soldiers on Tuesday.
The minister, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, was joined by senior government officials and generals in a brief procession that followed the caskets, wrapped in the military flag, after prayers.
The funeral was aired live on state television.
"Every Egyptian feels this attack was directed against them. They all want vengeance, and there must be blood for blood," a presenter said during the broadcast.
Earlier on Tuesday Israeli military sources told AFP the country had returned the bodies of six alleged gunmen to its Arab neighbor.
The six were sent back overnight Monday, they said.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the movement from which Mursi came, said on its website that the attack "can be attributed to Mossad."
The statement said Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, was trying to abort the Egyptian uprising that toppled Mubarak last year and that it was "imperative to review clauses" of the agreement between Egypt and Israel.
The group said on its website on Monday: "This crime can be attributed to the Mossad, which has been seeking to abort the revolution since its inception and the proof of this is that it gave instructions to its Zionist citizens in Sinai to depart immediately a few days ago."
Israel on Monday dismissed the charge.
"Even the person who says this when he looks at himself in the mirror does not believe the nonsense he is uttering," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
The Brotherhood also called for a review of the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which prohibits Egypt from deploying a large military presence in the Sinai.
"(It) also draws our attention to the fact that our forces in Sinai are not enough to protect it and our borders, which makes it imperative to review clauses in the signed agreement between us and the Zionist entity," the group said.
On Monday night dozens of Egyptians protested into the early hours in front of the residence of the Israeli ambassador in the Maadi district of Cairo.
Witnesses living in the area told UPI that dozens of Egyptians demanded the expulsion of envoy Yaakov Amitai.
Demonstrators chanted "Oh Zionist, oh cowards, Egyptian blood is not cheap," "Retribution, retribution, they shot our sisters with bullets," and "Get out, ambassador of swine."
Security forces surrounded the house of the ambassador to prevent demonstrators from storming it, fearing a repeat of events last year when the Israeli embassy was raided twice.
(AFP, Reuters, UPI, Al-Akhbar)