CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit implicitly confirmed on Saturday that his country was building an underground barrier with the Gaza Strip, saying it was Cairo’s right to protect itself.
“Be it a wall or detection hardware, the important thing is that Egypt’s territory must be protected; it must not be violated in any way, Aboul Gheit told the government weekly Al-Ahram Al-Arabi.
The weekly was questioning him about “reports concerning the construction by Egypt of a steel barrier along the border with Gaza and the deployment in the border area of American equipment to detect tunnels used by smugglers moving goods into the Palestinian enclave.
It was the closest confirmation so far that Egypt is building the barrier to stem smuggling into Gaza through underground tunnels, since a report Thursday in the government paper Al-Gomhuria.
“The barrier … is the same barrier that currently exists but with the addition of underground foundations, the newspaper said in a front-page editorial, confirming that work was underway on the barrier.
Previously security sources had only confirmed witness reports anonymously, while Israel’s Haaretz newspaper said the barrier will reach a depth of 30 meters and 10 kilometers long.
Aboul Gheit told Al-Ahram Al-Arabi: “Egypt has the right to control its border.
“The Palestinian cause is dear to our heart and the Egyptians have paid a heavy price defending this cause, but Egyptian territory and its security are more important than anything else, the foreign minister said.
In related news, the Associated Press on Saturday reported that Shots were fired from the Gaza Strip at Egyptians installing the barrier.
No one was reported injured in the attack, Palestinian and Egyptian officials said. But Egypt increased security in the border area after the fourth cross-border shooting since workers began building the metal barrier several weeks ago.
An Egyptian security official said nearly the full force of the 750-member border guard was called to the area, and dozens of additional armored vehicles were deployed near the frontier.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information to reporters.
Gaza’s interior minister, Fathi Hamad, said in a statement that Hamas was trying to “control the shooting attacks.
“The government confirms that it will protect Egypt’s security and it is in contact with the Egyptian government, Hamad said.
The barrier could worsen already tense relations between Egypt and Hamas, which relies on the tunnels to skirt the blockade.
A network of tunnels beneath the Egypt-Gaza border provide a crucial economic lifeline to Gaza, which has been sealed off from all but vital humanitarian aid by Israel and Egypt since Hamas took over in June 2007. -Agencies