Egypt digs at Gaza border amid report of smuggling barrier

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RAFAH: Egyptian engineers were carrying out major excavation work at the Gaza border on Wednesday as an Israeli daily reported that an anti-smuggling barrier was under construction, an AFP reporter said.

Workers were placing 20-meter long pipes every four meters or so along the border with the Palestinian territory which Israel has long complained has been vulnerable to arms smuggling, the reporter witnessed.

Security forces prevented the journalist from getting nearer than 200 meters away from the works but residents said that heavy construction equipment had been deployed the length of the fence that separates the two sides of the divided border town of Rafah.

Municipal official Suleiman Al-Bair said residents whose property had been affected had received compensation but he said he could not confirm the purpose of the work.

The Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the aim was to construct a massive underground iron wall the whole nine-to-10 kilometer length of the border.

The newspaper cited Egyptian sources as saying that the barrier would extend 20 to 30 meters underground in a bid to block all but the most determined smuggling.

It will be impossible to cut or melt, the paper said, although it added: It is not expected to stem smuggling completely.

Israel has repeatedly complained that Egypt has not done enough to prevent trafficking into Gaza, including arms smuggling by its Islamist Hamas rulers.

But in recent months Cairo has destroyed large numbers of tunnels, using detection equipment provided by Washington.

Israel has closed off Gaza to all but very limited basic supplies since Hamas seized it from loyalists of Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in June 2007.

The territory has since been dependent on smuggling for all but those supplies and the border is honeycombed with tunnels, which often collapse, sometimes claiming the lives of the smugglers. -AFP

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