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Egypt rejects Israeli FM criticism it is doing terrible job of securing border

Egypt rejects Israeli FM criticism it is doing terrible job of securing border

Egypt on Tuesday strongly rejected criticism by Israel's top diplomat that Cairo is doing a terrible job of securing its porous border with the Gaza Strip against smugglers, saying that the foreign minister did not understand the issues and should have remained silent.
The diplomatic spat cast a cloud over an upcoming visit to Egypt by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. His talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are expected to tackle a series of security matters, including cross-border weapons smuggling to Gaza militants.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni infuriated Egyptian officials on Monday by accusing Egypt of doing a "terrible" job in securing the border, saying it strengthens extremists in Gaza.
"It is better for the Israeli minister to concentrate on negotiation efforts with the Palestinians, instead of speaking randomly about issues she should not be dealing with if she is not fully aware of the situation," a statement from the ministry here said.
Palestinians smuggle everything from explosives to cigarettes from Egypt into Gaza through a network of tunnels beneath the border. Israel believes Hamas has stepped up arms smuggling since it violently seized control of Gaza in June.
The Egyptian statement linked Israel's criticisms with an earlier U.S. House of Representatives proposed legislation to withhold US$200 million in military aid until Cairo takes a number of steps, including stopping arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip.
Livni's remarks are "not far from" the U.S. Congress proposal to link the aid with Egypt's alleged lack of action "toward the tunnels issue," the statement said.
An Israeli foreign ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press, maintained that Israel's frustration over the issue is nothing new.
"This is not a diplomatic bomb that went off suddenly _ there has been tension about this issue for some time. This is not the most pleasant time in Israel-Egypt relations," he said.
"Unfortunately, we feel a certain level of unease with Egypt's treatment of the border area," confirmed Arye Mekel, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry .
Further ratcheting up friction between the two countries, Israel gave U.S. officials a number of incriminating videotapes showing Egyptian police officers helping weapons smugglers along the border or standing by while smugglers went about their business, Israeli defense officials said Tuesday.
The tapes were passed on through military channels, the officials said, in an attempt to convince the U.S. to prod Egypt to take action against the smugglers.
Mekel would not comment on whether the tapes existed, or had been given to the U.S. military.
But an Egyptian security official in the border town of Rafah on Monday _ when reports of the tape appeared first in Israeli media _ said the tapes were a fabrication and that it was impossible to film any border activity with 750 border guards patrolling the frontiers around the clock.
The same official on Tuesday dismissed other Israeli media claims, on Cairo allegedly getting high-tech equipment for detecting the underground passages.
"Till now, the Egyptian security service have not received any tunnel detectors and there was no notification from authorities that we will get any," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
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Associated Press Writer Matti Friedman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-03-01 16:12 GMT+08:00