Egypt has reportedly begun to take a more proactive role in stemming the flow of weapons smuggled across its border into Gaza, courtesy of a freeze on foreign aid funds by the United States.
Egyptian authorities said they would destroy several houses in the city of Rafiah, which straddles the Egypt-Gaza border. Sources said residents have already been forced to leave buildings within 50 meters of the border, and officials now intend to expel all those living within 150 meters of the border.
The operation is meant to demonstrate Egypt’s efforts to fight weapons smuggling across the border into Gaza. It comes in the wake of a vote last Thursday by the United States Congress to freeze $200 million in aid until Egypt begins to actively fight weapons smuggling.
The aid was frozen under a new law that also reduced U.S. aid to Egypt from $1.3 billion to $1.1 billion per year. The $200 million is included in the reduced foreign aid package.
The bill has not yet been approved by the U.S. Senate nor has it been signed by U.S. President George Bush, steps that must be completed if the measure is to become law.
The funds could be transferred to Egypt once US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice officially confirms that Egypt is, in fact, doing its best to prevent the smuggling of weapons from the Sinai to Gaza.
Analysts warn the move may be a case of too little, too late, however.
Since Hamas seized control of Gaza last month, weapons smuggling from Egypt into Gaza has now reached “import” levels, according to military intelligence sources. Gaza terrorists had already gathered thousands of weapons, rounds of ammunition, missiles and other materiel in smuggling operations that preceded the takeover.
The Egyptian-Gaza border has become little more than a demarcation between the two entities since Hamas took control in Gaza, allowing terrorists to bring in increasingly sophisticated weaponry. “Hamas has jumped light years in its capabilities since Israel withdrew from Gaza two years ago,” said a military official quoted in a Haaretz report.
Hamas recently imported 20 tons of explosives through Rafiah, according to the official. The town’s location straddling the border with Egypt has long made it the weapons smuggling capital of Gaza.