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Israeli Defense Minister Heads to Egypt Amid Diplomatic Row


Israel's defense minister is heading to Egypt amid a diplomatic row. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, Israel is accusing Egypt of assisting Hamas fighters in the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip.

Weapons smuggling from Egypt to the Gaza Strip will top the agenda when Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak holds talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in a Red Sea resort on Wednesday.

Israel has long complained that Cairo is turning a blind eye to the smuggling of tons of weapons and explosives through tunnels under Egypt's border with Gaza. Israel sees the arming of the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, as a growing strategic threat, and it accuses Cairo of failing to honor a border security agreement after Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005.

The dispute is straining relations after Israel said it delivered videotapes to American officials that show Egyptian police officers helping the weapons smugglers. Adding to the strain, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Egypt is doing a "terrible" job of patrolling the border.

Member of parliament, Yuval Steinitz, a senior member of the committee, says Egypt is playing a double game.

"They cannot cooperate with Israel and [the] United States fighting terrorism and smuggling, and underground, actually cooperating with Hamas and Iran, enabling the smuggling into Gaza," said Steinitz.

Cairo has rejected the charges in "both form and substance." Egypt's foreign ministry accused Israel of influencing the U.S. Congress, which has proposed legislation to withhold $200 million in military aid to Egypt, until it takes tougher steps to curb weapons smuggling on the Gaza border.

Egypt's foreign ministry also said Israel's Livni should concentrate on negotiations with the Palestinians. A foreign ministry statement said Livni is not fully informed about the situation at the Gaza border.