Egypt defends Gaza wall 22Dec09 December 23, 2009

Aljazeera -  22 December 2009


Egypt’s foreign minister has said that a controversial wall being built along the country’s border with the Gaza Strip will defend it “against threats to national security”.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit’s comments, reported bythe state-owned Mena news agency on Tuesday, were the first official acknowledgement of the construction, which has been heavily criticised by Hamas.

Gheit said that the measures along the border involve “construction, engineering work and ultrasound equipment”.

The new barrier is believed to consist of a series of steel sheets and pipes that will be buried deep into the ground to prevent the construction of smuggling tunnels under the 14km frontier.

Israel has repeatedly complained that Egypt has not done enough to prevent smuggling into Gaza through such tunnels, which it says are used to supply Hamas with explosives and arms.

But in recent months Cairo has destroyed large numbers of tunnels, using detection equipment provided by the United States.

Palestinian anger

The Egyptian move to stop the smuggling have been greeted with anger in the Gaza Strip, which Israel has closed off to all but limited basic supplies since Hamas seized full control after forcing out security forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, in June 2007.

Hundreds of Palestinians rallied in Rafah near the Egyptian border on Monday to protest against the construction.Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, told Al Jazeera on Monday that the construction of the wall would create a “real disaster in the Gaza Strip”.

“We are not talking about borders between Egypt and Israel; we are talking about steel borders between two peoples, one of these two peoples is under siege,” he said.

“There are Arab League resolutions that call for breaking the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip. Now, instead of taking practical steps to break this siege, we get surprised with this steel wall.

Abu Zuhri said Hamas officials have contacted Egyptian officials on the matter.

“They [Egyptian officials] have at first denied this, but it can no more be denied because it has been confirmed by what we see and by the definite information we have received,” he said.

‘Failing’ Gaza

Meanwhile, a group of 16 human rights and aid groups has criticised the international community for failing to compel Israel to bring an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“They have wrung hands and issued statements, but have taken little meaningful action to attempt to change the damaging policy that prevents reconstruction, personal recovery and economic recuperation,” Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam International’s executive director, said in a statement.

The Israeli authorities have allowed only 41 lorryloads of construction materials into Gaza since the end of its 22-day military offensive last January, the report said.Thousands of such deliveries would be needed to repair homes and other buildings destroyed by the air, ground and naval bombardment.

“Today, because of the closure, large-scale reconstruction remains impossible,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.

“The population lives under constant threat of a collapse of water, sanitation and electricity services.”

Protest march

A group of international activists has said it will go ahead with next week’s planned march against the blockade of the Gaza Strip, despite Cairo banning any demonstration.

“Our efforts and plans will not be altered at this point. We have set out to break the siege of Gaza and to march in Gaza on December 31 against the international blockade,” organisers of the Gaza Freedom March said on their website.

“We are continuing the journey.”

The Egyptian foreign ministry on Monday rejected a request by organisers to use the Rafah border crossing, the only entry into Gaza that bypasses Israel.

It warned that “any attempts to violate the law or public order by any group, whether local or foreign, on Egyptian soil will be dealt with in conformity with the law”.

Around 1,300 international delegates from 42 countries have signed up to join the Gaza Freedom March which was due to enter Gaza via Egypt during the last week of December.


Bahar says Egypt’s wall signals new Israeli attack on Gaza

from Ma’an News Agency -  22 December 2009

56401Palestinian Legislative Council member Ahmad Bahar called for an urgent meeting between all parliamentary blocks on Wednesday to discuss the consequences of the Egyptian wall being built along Gaza’s southern border.

“The construction of Egypt’s wall is a sign of an impending attack on Gaza by Israel,” Bahar said.

The wall, 10 kilometers long and 24 meters deep, will run along the Gaza-Egypt border, and aims to cut off the passage into Egypt of hundreds of smuggling tunnels which have been for two years Gaza’s lifeline as Israel’s siege continues.

Bahar said he considered the building of the wall as a sign for another Israeli attack against the Gaza Strip.

Bahar called the construction of the wall a move that goes against the good relations between Gaza and Egypt, and he urged Egyptian authorities to reconsider their decision. “This is a dangerous step against the Palestinians,” he said.

He condemned Israel for imposing a “strict and stifling siege” on Gaza, and wondered, “Why is Egypt the one to increase the intensity of the siege on the people of Gaza when they are supposed to be the side helping to end it?”

The PLC member called on the Arab League and international forces to step in and end the siege on Gaza.

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