Israel envisions canal on Egypt-Gaza border

Special to World
Friday, June 18, 2004

TEL AVIV Israel has launched a project to construct a huge trench along the border of Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli Defense Ministry has announced a tender for the construction of a four kilometer trench along the Egyptian-Gaza border in an effort to stop the smuggling of weapons and explosives to the Palestinian Authority and insurgency groups. The trench was specified as having a depth of up to 25 meters.

Officials said the trench would contain some water. They said the trench could be more than 100 meters wide and meant to be completed within six months.

"A trench that would be permanently wet would make it difficult to dig in that location," Deputy Defense Minister Zev Boim said.

The moat was meant to prevent the construction of tunnels by Palestinians that connect the southern Gaza town of Rafah with the Sinai Peninsula. These tunnels have been used for the smuggling of weapons, insurgents and illegal drugs. So far, Israel has found and destroyed 90 tunnels, 15 of them in 2004.

The tender by the ministry's construction division would include the digging of the canal, cement work and other construction. The project was meant to last one year, with the option for another year.

Boim said the project would cost tens of millions of dollars and would involve the testing of new technology. Boim said contractors would be asked to ensure that the digging does not strike the underground water table.

Officials said the canal project was meant to replace an Israeli military recommendation to widen the border area to up to five kilometers.

They said the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon concluded that this would result in the destruction of thousands of homes in Rafah and incur international condemnation.

The ministry announcement called for a tour by interested contractors before they submit bids. Officials said they could not estimate the value of the project.

The halt in Palestinian weapons smuggling has been deemed a priority for Israel's Southern Command. Col. Pinchas Suarez, commander of the southern Gaza brigade, said Palestinian insurgents have ordered a large quantity of Katyusha rockets and anti-aircraft missiles and that the shipment was waiting in the Sinai Peninsula for smuggling through the tunnels and into the Gaza Strip.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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