Hamas curbs arms flow: Egypt

The smuggling of weapons, ammunition and drugs through tunnels from Egypt into the Gaza Strip has dropped significantly since the Islamist movement Hamas took control in June, Egyptian military officials said.
Egyptian Army Colonel Amr Mamdouh said border guards used to discover an average of four smuggling tunnels every week when Western-backed Fatah forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dominated the coastal strip.
But the situation changed after the Islamist faction routed Fatah in Gaza on June 14 in fighting that sparked condemnations from a host of countries including Egypt.
“Smuggling is down. Hamas is controlling the line better than Fatah. Hamas wants to show the world that it is in control,” Mamdouh told reporters on the Egyptian side of Rafah on Sunday, as he explained Egypt’s efforts to secure the 14km frontier with Gaza.
Egypt is under pressure to show it is taking action to curb smuggling at the Gaza border, where guards identified by Egyptian officials as Hamas fighters were manning posts under the Palestinian flag.
Israel has accused Egypt of not doing enough to stop smuggling, and the US House of Representatives has proposed cutting $200mn of annual military aid to Egypt unless it improves border security and its rights record.
Mamdouh said Egyptian border guards discovered 138 tunnels between September 2005, when Israel pulled out of Gaza, and July 21, 2007. Six have been found since the Hamas takeover.
However, Israeli government spokesman David Baker said Hamas was smuggling “huge amounts” of weapons into Gaza.
Mamdouh said since the Gaza withdrawal, contraband confiscated by Egypt has included 13 small rockets, 8.7 tonnes of explosives, 240 rifles and 162,000 rounds of ammunition.
One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said most tunnels were used by criminals to smuggle drugs. “Hamas does not deal in drugs,” he added.
An Egyptian Bedouin who smuggles arms to Gaza said demand for weapons had dropped. “The market is dead. Hamas took a lot of weapons from Fatah so it does not need more,” said the man, who gave his name only as Abdel Karim.
Egypt has called the Hamas takeover of Gaza a “coup against legitimacy”, urging Palestinians to rally behind Abbas, who fired the Hamas-led government in a move rejected by Hamas.
Mamdouh and others said Egypt was doing a good job under difficult conditions. He said his force did not have any contacts with Hamas.
Egypt cannot deploy its army at the border under a 1979 peace treaty with Israel. A 2005 agreement lets Cairo send 750 border guards to the area but Mamdouh said that was not enough.
Mamdouh said efforts to find tunnels rely on detecting diggers who sometimes make enough noise to attract attention, or on intelligence gathering. The tunnels are often well hidden.
One tunnel found 10 days ago ended next to a hen house in the backyard of a house. Another branch of the same 18m tunnel emerged under a dirty kitchen sink.
Guards found a tunnel emerging into a closet in a bedroom.
“I will give you $100 if you find where the tunnel is,” Mamdouh told reporters before removing a wooden board covering the hole.

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