Egypt will not tolerate a two-way flow of smuggled arms with the Gaza Strip that is destabilising its Sinai peninsula, a senior aide to its Islamist president said, explaining why Egyptian forces flooded sub-border tunnels last week.
The network of tunnels has been a lifeline for some 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza, bringing in an estimated 30 percent of all goods that reach the enclave and circumventing a blockade imposed by Israel for more than seven years.
But Essam Haddad, national security adviser to President Mohamed Mursi told Reuters in an interview: "We don't want to see these tunnels used for illegal ways of smuggling either people or weapons that can really harm Egyptian security." He said that under a deal brokered by Cairo to end fighting in November between Israel and the Hamas movement that rules the Gaza Strip, the Israeli stranglehold on the coastal territory had been considerably relaxed. Egypt has eased border controls to allow in construction materials, notably from Qatar.
"Now we can say that the borders are open to a good extent - it could still be improved - and the needs of the Gazan people are allowed in. Building materials are allowed in for the first time," Haddad said.
"And on the other side, we would not like to see arms smuggled through these tunnels either in or out, because we are now seeing in Sinai and we have captured actually across Egypt heavy arms that could be used in a very dangerous way." (...)
WEAPONS SMUGGLING INCREASED
Despite the flooding of the tunnels, which sparked bitter complaints from Palestinians, Haddad said relations with Hamas, ideologically close to the Muslim Brotherhood movement now ruling in Cairo, were good.
Egypt has been trying, so far without success, to coax Hamas and the Fatah nationalist movement that runs the Palestinian Authority which controls the West Bank to agree on a national unity government and elections.