Egyptian police have arrested 40 suspected smugglers and seized contraband goods in a new crackdown on smuggling along the country's border with the Gaza Strip, an Egyptian security official said Thursday.
The official said hundreds of security forces have been deployed in and around the town of Rafah, located along the sensitive border with the Palestinian Hamas-run coastal area. The goods seized in the latest raids are worth about $1 million, he said but did not elaborate.
The campaign reflects the government's intention to curb border smuggling through Rafah, which has been the main artery for both commodities and weapons to Palestinians in the battered Gaza, mostly through a maze of underground tunnels along the boundary.
The crackdown started last weekend, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the press.
The smuggling of weapons and goods - mostly food items - spiked after Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, routing their Fatah rivals from the area, and Egypt and Israel imposed an economic blockade on the strip.
Israel destroyed many of the underground tunnels in intense bombing raids during its 22-day offensive on Gaza last month, launched in reprisal for Hamas' rockets targeting southern Israel. However, some tunnels appeared to have been revived after the Israeli offensive ended.
According to the Egyptian official, new checkpoints have also been set up along Rafah's entrances and exits.
He said about 1,000 police are patrolling narrow alleys and hillsides near Rafah, and town residents and visitors are subjected to extensive questioning and searches by police. The official added that the goods seized included food items, television sets, kitchen blenders and other commodities.