Egypt Boosting Forces on Philadephi Route

Egypt has reinforced its troops along the Philadelphi Route between the Egyptian and Palestinian parts of the divided town of Rafah since Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip. The move comes in the aftermath of Egyptian intelligence information suggesting that Hamas would try to use force to open the border because of Egypt's closure of the Rafah crossing.

Egypt blocked entrances and exits to Egyptian Rafah to thwart arms smuggling, and imposed temporary curfews on Rafah, during which time arms smuggling into Palestinian Rafah declined dramatically. Some of the roadblocks were eventually removed, but the Egyptian high alert remains in force.

Egypt's concern deepened especially after an extremist Hamas religious leader, Sheikh Yunis al-Astel from Khan Yunis, advocated during his Friday sermon that the Philadephi Route be stormed and taken over. The Egyptians were also concerned that if Hamas stormed the border, Palestinians on the Egyptian side would join them.

Egypt is now demanding that Israel beef up its troops along the border. According to the present agreement with Israel, the Egyptian police force that previously operated along the border has been replaced with the ostensibly elite border guard unit. The Egyptians now want to add another 750 police personnel who had previously been stationed along the Gaza border.

Tensions rose yesterday after Hamas supporters set out toward the Rafah crossing to protest its closure. The Egyptians again called its forces to the scene, out of concern that the protesters would storm the border.

Meanwhile, the Kerem Shalom crossing, which was to have opened yesterday to allow Palestinians stranded at the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip, was kept closed after Palestinians fired at least 11 mortar shells toward Israel. Approximately 5,000 to 6,000 Palestinians are waiting to cross at Kerem Shalom.

Vice-Premier Haim Ramon called for the conditions of the peace treaty with Egypt to be reevaluated to allow for increased Egyptian troops to be stationed in Sinai, to stop infiltration of Africans across the border. Ramon, along with Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, are calling for a fence to be built in the south to stem the tide of refugees.

Speaking at a meeting of the Kadima faction on Tuesday, Ramon said it was in the Israeli interest to open the treaty with Egypt, noting that "some people think that the presence of 3,000 to 4,000 people on the Egyptian border are an existential threat."

Ramon called the Egyptian-Israel border a "highway" for the smuggling of women, arms and drugs, and said a discussion of how to seal the border was urgent.

The vice premier also noted that the number of infiltrators into Israel last year was 300, as opposed to 3,000 this year.