Egyptian security forces arrested two armed Palestinians as they emerged from a border tunnel with the Gaza Strip on Friday, and were searching for seven others believed to have slipped into Egypt, security sources said.
"Two Palestinian smugglers were caught immediately upon exiting a tunnel in the al-Barahma area of the border between Egypt and Gaza, and they were armed," one source said.
The sources said the detained Palestinians told investigators that seven other Palestinians had crossed earlier on Friday, and Egyptian security forces were searching the area.
For the 1.5 million people in the Gaza Strip, the tunnels have become a main source of goods, including fuel, since Israel tightened its embargo after Hamas seized control of Gaza from the forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.
Israel bombed the tunnels during its recent 22-day Gaza offensive, and its military fears Hamas could use them to re-arm. But many tunnels have sophisticated systems and seem to have survived weeks of Israeli bombardment.
While Egyptian forces frequently report finding and destroying tunnels on the border with Gaza, the tunnels are usually found empty. Arrests of Palestinians accused of smuggling or caught in the tunnels are rare.
Egypt, which has kept its Rafah border crossing with the territory largely closed, has agreed to help stop the tunnel smuggling with international technical assistance.