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Israel, PA fear al-Qaeda infiltration
Israel, PA worried al-Qaeda terrorists could cross porous Egypt-Gaza border; defense establishment says people, weapons moving freely across Philadelphi Route. IDF: ‘Unclear what has passed through the Philadelphi Route in the last few days, but no doubt that things happened there that should not have taken place’
IDF Border Guard forces caught 21 Palestinians trying to infiltrate the Egypt – Israel border early Thursday morning, as both Israeli and Palestinian officials expressed concern that al-Qaeda terrorists could have crossed into Gaza since Israel withdrew from the area Monday.

 

"We're talking about Iran, we're talking elements in Syria, we're talking about groups like Hezbollah and we're talking also about international terrorist groups like al-Qaeda," said Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

 

  

Rafiq Husseini, the top aide to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, said, "We are even more worried than Israel about al-Qaeda coming here because al-Qaeda would harm us more than Israel."

 

Such a presence, he said, would hurt prospects for peace and renewed negotiations with Israel.

 

"The Palestinian Authority security apparatus will arrest any suspected al-Qaeda members or other terrorist groups if they infiltrate Gaza,"he said.

 

IDF sources said the Palestinians tried to cross into Israel near Kadesh Barnea, in the Negev Desert, after crossing into Egypt from Gaza across the Philadelphi Route.

 

Weapons smuggling

 

Also Wednesday, Egyptian soldiers blew up a tunnel used to smuggle weapons into the Palestinian Authority, near Rafiah. 35 rifles, three missile launchers and 280 hand grenades were found in the tunnel, which began at the Egyptian side of the border and crossed into the Gaza Strip.

 

IDF sources estimate that most of the weapons transferred in the past few days from Egypt to Gaza are light weapons.

 

In the meantime, no information has been received on “balance breaking” weapons such as long-range missiles.

 

The sources also said several wanted Palestinians from Gaza have crossed the border to Egypt in fear of imprisonment by Israel in the future.

 

Border Guard Commander Avshalom Peled told Ynet that he expects a flow of infiltrators who may take advantage of the opening and this may possibly lead to the smuggling of weapons and terrorists.

 

During the night, Border Guard forces deployed along the Israel-Egypt border. At first they caught nine Gaza residents who had infiltrated Israel. Later, nine more Gaza residents were captured, and in the morning two more infiltrators were apprehended near the Tsihor Junction. Although none of the infiltrators were carrying weapons, these incidents are causing a lot of concern in the defense establishment.

 

‘Things that should not have taken place’

 

Defense establishment sources say that during 2004 not one Palestinian was caught trying to cross the border from Egypt to Israel. In the first half of 2005, from January up to the end of June, the IDF caught 20 Palestinians who had apparently moved from Gaza to Egypt through the tunnels. On Thursday night, a similar number of infiltrators were caught within a few hours.

 

“We definitely estimate that the uncontrolled and unsupervised Philadelphi Route is what causes Palestinians to easily cross from Gaza into Egypt. Then, after moving south, usually by car, they reach a point enabling them to cross the border into Israel”, said Commander Peled.

 

He added that this infiltration route has great potential for smuggling weapons and terrorists.

 

“We now expect a flow of infiltrators through this route and intend to deploy a large amount of forces also Thursday night in order to foil these attempts. We are well aware of what is going on in Gaza, and even if in this case the infiltrators are people looking for work, tomorrow it may be a terrorist carrying an explosive belt,” he said.

 

Security sources estimate that since the IDF pullout from Gaza, the situation has been exploited for smuggling various weapons that had accumulated in Egypt and were difficult to transfer through the tunnels.

 

“It is still unclear what has passed through the Philadelphi Route in the last few days, but we have no doubt that things happened there that should not have taken place”, IDF sources said.

 

According to the understandings, on Thursday the Egyptians were meant to complete the deployment of all 750 border guard officers along the route and to work toward fully preventing the passage of infiltrators and weapons.

 

Also Thursday, the operations room built in the Amitai Base near the Kerem Shalom crossing should begin its work, and simultaneously an Egyptian operations room will be opened in order to allow a 24-hour continuous transfer of messages, including classified intelligence information

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report

 


First published: 15.09.05, 11:42
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