CAIRO: With the World Economic Forum on the Middle East underway in Sharm El-Sheikh, the tunnels frequently used to smuggle goods and weapons on the Egypt-Gaza border have been inactive for the past four days, sources in the area told Daily News Egypt.
Sunday night saw an increased troop presence of Central Security forces, and witnesses confirmed helicopter patrols over the areas of Sheikh Zowayed and Rafah.
“There are tensions on the border and tunnel activity has been stopped for four days, journalist, activist and North Sinai Tagammu party member Mustapha Singer told Daily News Egypt.
“The tunnels have been tolerated because they are an alternative to the closure of the Rafah border crossing and are used to transport goods into Gaza, he added.
However, “there have been suspicions of Palestinians sneaking into Sinai and a search was conducted on them.
According to Singer, there were fears that they might then attempt to cross back into Israel through a less guarded part of the border. It was also because of the tightened security measures in place during the WEF.
Egypt is currently in the process of mediating a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza strip. Two Hamas delegations entered Egypt yesterday and are due to hold talks with Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman Tuesday.
Local coordinator for Palestinian affairs in Rafah Abdel-Sattar El-Ghalban told Daily News Egypt that one delegation headed by Mahmoud Zahar came through the Rafah border crossing from Gaza, and another headed by Musa Abu Marzuq came from Damascus – home of Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.
“The ceasefire agreement is the last hope for the people in Gaza, who are in their last throes, he said.
“The situation within Gaza is tragic; there is no fuel. The strip is on the verge of explosion, El-Ghalban added. “They bet that the people of Gaza would stand against Hamas, but the people are with them and sympathize with them, especially after [US President George] Bush’s speech in the Knesset.
North Sinai Tagammu party member Hussein El Qayem confirmed the increased military presence near the border and the helicopter forays in the area, telling Daily News Egypt that tunnel activity had ceased in the past four days.
El Qayem also warned of the danger posed by what is now a total siege and the pressure it would further induce in the population of Gaza, especially if a ceasefire agreement is not reached.
“It is tense at the border at the moment, and no one is allowed near it, he said. “If the ceasefire doesn’t work out, then there is talk of further explosions in the border like what happened in January.
Last January, Hamas blew up parts of the border wall to allow hundreds of thousands of Gazans to enter the Egyptian side of Rafah, purchasing much needed supplies to counter the crippling shortages in the strip.