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Egypt Moves 5,000 Police to Gaza Border as Israel Protests Arms Smuggling

Egypt has deployed thousands of police on the volatile border with the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip. As Robert Berger reports for VOA from Jerusalem, reports say Israel is considering military action to halt weapons-smuggling from Egypt to militant groups in Gaza.

Egypt moved 5,000 paramilitary security police to the Gaza border, after an Israeli newspaper reported that Israel plans to bomb weapons-smuggling tunnels. Egypt said the deployment was aimed at protecting Egyptian citizens in the area, and it is calling for Israel to exercise restraint.

Border tensions escalated last week, after the Israeli army chief said Palestinian militants have dug hundreds of tunnels since Israel pulled out of Gaza a year ago. Under a border security agreement, Egypt was supposed to prevent arms-smuggling, but Israeli officials accuse Egypt of turning a blind eye and doing nothing.

The army says tons of weapons and explosives have been smuggled to the Palestinians, including anti-tank missiles used by Hezbollah guerillas during the recent war in Lebanon.

Israeli spokesman Mark Regev says Israel will not allow Gaza to become another Lebanon.

"You have a situation, where you have extremist groups inside Gaza, who are seeking to upgrade their terrorist capabilities, to upgrade their strategic capabilities, and try to get the sort of weaponry, the sort of state-of-the-art hardware, that Hezbollah had in South Lebanon, and, of course, it is not in our interest for that to happen," Regev says.

Israel is considering several military options, including air strikes and reoccupying the Palestinian side of the border, known as the Philadelphia Corridor. But Regev says that is a last resort.

"At the moment we are working with the Egyptians to try to make sure, or to see if it is possible, to stop this influx of weapons through diplomatic means," Regev says.

Egypt's deployment of state police is apparently meant to address Israeli concerns. Egyptian sources say police have set up checkpoints, and raided militant hideouts in a bid to curb weapons-smuggling.

While the threat of air strikes has prompted Egypt to take action, Israeli officials are skeptical that it will be effective. And, they say, Israel will not stand idly by, as Gaza is armed for war.