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NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza – Some Egyptian soldiers stationed at the Sinai-Gaza border have been bribed by Palestinians to allow weapons to be smuggled from Egypt into the nearby Rafah refugee camp, the security chief for Gaza’s Jewish communities told WND in an exclusive interview.
The revelation follows reports last week that Israel and Egypt have agreed in principle to deploy Egyptian soldiers on the Gaza border in the framework of Israel’s pullout from the area this August.
“We have had information that a good number of Egyptian soldiers are being bribed by the Palestinian groups to look the other way and do nothing about the rampant weapons smuggling going on across the border,” said Ami Shaked, chief security coordinator for the Gush Katif Block, the slate of Jewish communities in Gaza scheduled for evacuation Aug. 15.
“The average Egyptian soldier makes about $10 a month. Pay him and his colleages $100 a month and you have yourself a bought border,” Shaked said.
Israel has been negotiating with Cairo the eventual handing over of the Egypt-Gaza border after the implementation this summer of Sharon’s plan to evacuate the Jewish communities of Gaza.
According to reports, Israel last week agreed to allow Cairo to deploy about 750 guards in the area, although negotiations are ongoing. A larger buildup would modify the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty that declares the entire Sinai peninsula a demilitarized zone.
Egypt gradually wants to place at the Israeli-Egyptian border 3,500 troops fortified with vehicles, observation and listening posts and missile launchers, sources close to the negotiations told WND.
Egyptian Foreign Minster Ahmed Aboul Gheit recently said his country plans to deploy the troops at the border, “subject to the understandings that we are trying to reach with the Israelis.”
He said he wants to station 1,500 to 2,000 troops along the border to ensure an “orderly” Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.
But critics cite Cairo’s inability or unwillingness to stem the arms smuggling as proof Egypt cannot be trusted, and warn Israel soon may face a Palestinian Gaza armed with weapons such as ground-to-ground and anti-aircraft missiles.
Palestinians regularly use tunnels from Egypt to Rafah to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip. The tunnels are dug from the Egyptian side usually leading into homes inside Rafah, with tunnel entrances covered by furniture and tiles.
Since February, security sources report, there have been approximately 30 incidents of smuggling from Egypt’s Sinai region, with weapons transported including approximately 1,000 rifles, dozens of rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers, about 150 handguns, five anti-aircraft shoulder missiles and tens of thousands of bullets.
The weapons are being smuggled with the help of Hamas and Palestinian forces on the Israeli side, Reuven Erlich, director of Israel’s Center for Special Studies, told WND.
“The Palestinian Authority claims to have shut down the tunnels, and they did close some, but others are open, and they are actively helping the smugglers,” said Erlich.
Shaked said the Palestinians lately have been smuggling Egyptian-made Cobra RPGs and their launchers.
Recently smuggled Egyptian Cobra RPG launcher (WND photo)
“It’s similar to the Russian RPG,” he said. “They are manufactured in Egypt, and then smuggled through Rafah by paying off the guards. It’s a whole industry.”
Shaked balked at the suggestion Cairo would stop the arms smuggling if it assumed control of the Gaza border.
“Egypt brings in 1,000 troops? Big deal. The Palestinians will just have to come up with an additional $50,000-$100,000 to pay them off. And when Israel leaves, there won’t even be any hiding of the smuggling industry. It will just be done in the open,” said Shaked.