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Israel nudges Egypt to crack down harder on Gaza smugglers

Networks of tunnels underneath the Egypt-Gaza border are used to ferry everything from food to weapons into the impoverished Gaza Strip.

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The buffer zone between Egypt and Gaza is a no man's land. But beneath the eight-mile Philadelphi Route, this border town stays busy.

Officials on both sides say a vast network of tunnels is used by smugglers to ferry everything from cigarettes and fuel to machine guns and grenades into the Gaza Strip.

Since Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, Egyptian forces have been responsible for cracking down on this smuggling, with the discrete assistance of US Army specialists. But Israeli officials have increasingly voiced discontent with Egypt's policing. They strongly dispute its claims of success, saying that Cairo's efforts have improved over time but that there is still much that needs to be done.

"There is a certain improvement in this arena in the last few weeks. The measures have been tightened but the results are still far from satisfying because there are still smuggling tunnels," Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told reporters on Aug. 26.

"Gaza is a big headache for us," says Lt. Col. Yasser Ahmed Ali, commander of the Liaison Agency with International Organizations (LAWIO), an Egyptian military branch that works with multinational peacekeepers in Sinai.

"Since 2005 we have found 452 tunnels," he says. "Maybe we find five tunnels in one day, or 10 or more. Maybe we'll find one on one day and then for the next two days nothing."

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