Egypt FM: Pro-Israeli lobby is harming our relations with U.S.
U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter revives Congress proposal to cut aid to Cairo if smuggling to Gaza not curbed.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Wednesday accused the Israeli lobby in Washington of straining its relations with the United States by using the issue of smuggling across the Gaza border as an excuse to cut U.S. military aid to Cairo.
The remarks came hours before a scheduled meeting between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik where they were expected to discuss the cross-border weapons smuggling to Gaza militants.
"The latest months have seen the Israeli lobby's efforts to harm Egypt's interests with the (U.S.)Congress," Aboul Gheit told reporters. "The Israeli lobby inside the Congress was behind some positions adopted by Congress and the Israeli media campaign in the last few months falls within this trend."
Another senior Egyptian official echoed Aboul Gheit's comments, accusing Israel of trying to influence U.S. aid to Egypt. He referred to video footage that Israel passed to the United States in which Egyptian soldiers are seen taking part in the weapons smuggling. The official said that this is a "blatant attempt to interfere in internal Egyptian matters," adding that "in the videos there is nothing" and that "the construction of settlements is very damaging the peace process".
The comments come during a period of heightened tension between Egypt and Israel, which claims that not enough is being done to stem the flow of weapons being smuggled across the border.
On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) said during a visit to Jerusalem he was upset by the smuggling, and revived a proposal by Congress to cut aid if the issue was not addressed.
"Egypt can do a lot more," said Specter, a member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee. "And if they don't, I think it would be appropriate to condition aid to them."
Egyptian police also announced Wednesday that it had arrested in the Rafah border town, near the Gaza frontier, a weapons smuggler and confiscated nearly a ton and a half of bomb-making material hidden in his home.
Police found 13 sacks, each containing 20 kilograms of explosives in underground caches and 60 sacks filled with about 1,200 kilograms of potassium nitrate used to make explosives.
The smuggler confessed taking weapons and explosives to Gaza Strip through tunnels with the help of associates on the other side, police said.
Aboul Gheit said Egyptian-U.S. relations "should be healthy as both are keen to achieve stability in the (Middle East) region ... and hope that foreign parties will not succeed in harming this relationship."
"We will not allow a third party to interfere in the Egyptian-American relations which is bilateral and includes one regional power and one international power that try to discuss all issues openly and in cooperation," Aboul Gheit said.
Egypt on Tuesday strongly rejected criticism by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that Cairo was doing a terrible job of securing its porous border with the Gaza Strip against smugglers. Egyptian Foreign Ministry statement said Livni did not understand the issues and should have remained silent.
The Egyptian foreign ministry statement on Tuesday said Livni's accusations, which both in the United States and in Israel have been linked with an earlier U.S. House of Representatives proposed legislation to withhold $200 million in military aid until Cairo takes steps to curb police abuse, reform its judicial system and stop arms smuggling into the neighboring Gaza Strip.