RAFAH, Egypt, (AP) – Egyptian police arrested 40 suspected smugglers and seized goods in a new crackdown on smuggling into the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, an Egyptian security official said Thursday.
Hundreds of security forces have been deployed in and around the town of Rafah, located along Egypt’s sensitive border with Gaza, the official said. Around $1 million in goods was seized, including food, television sets and kitchen appliances, but no weapons, the official said.
Halting smuggling into Gaza is a key issue in negotiations for a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas that Egypt is trying to mediate after Israel’s devastating 22-day offensive against the Palestinian militant group in Gaza.
Israel is demanding a halt to smuggling of weapons to Hamas through tunnels under the Egypt border. The tunnels are also the main artery for goods and commodities to residents of Gaza, which has been under a crippling closure since Hamas took over in 2007. Hamas demands the full opening of the border as part of any truce.
The crackdown started last weekend, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the press. New checkpoints have also been set up along Rafah’s entrances and exits, while about 1,000 police are patrolling narrow alleys and hillsides near Rafah, questioning residents and conducting searches.
The smuggling of weapons and goods spiked after Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, routing their Fatah rivals from the area, and Egypt and Israel imposed an economic blockade on the strip.
Israel destroyed many underground tunnels during its Gaza offensive, launched in reprisal for Hamas rocket attacks on south Israel. However, some tunnels appeared to have been revived after the Israeli offensive ended in mid-January.