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Friday, February 23, 2007

Egyptian police find explosives near Gaza border

EL-ARISH, Egypt, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Egyptian police found one tonne of explosives near the border with the Gaza Strip on Friday as part of a widening hunt for suspected Palestinian militants in Sinai, security officials said.

Police sources said on Wednesday they had arrested a Palestinian man wearing a suicide belt who confessed to planning to attack Israeli tourists in Sinai.

The man had entered Egypt through a tunnel on the border with the Gaza Strip. Two of his accomplices were later seized in the Egyptian border town of Rafah and security officials said on Friday a fourth suspect was still on the run.

"Police fear that more (militants) could have entered Sinai through the same tunnel and have been sweeping suspected hideouts as a precautionary measure," one official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

Scores of Palestinians and Egyptians, including Sinai Bedouin, have also been detained for questioning, he said.

One of the sweeps led police to a warehouse near the Karm Salem border crossing where they found 34 sacks stuffed with one tonne of explosives, security officials said.

Bombers have attacked south Sinai resorts popular with Israeli tourists three times in the past 2-1/2 years. Egypt has blamed the attacks on a group of Islamists who are from the Sinai Bedouin community and sympathetic toward the Palestinians.

"Cars and trucks have been closely watched and guarded for fear they could be used in (suicide) operations inside Sinai," the security official said.

Egyptian police regularly seize explosives and ammunition in Sinai, sometimes hidden in tunnels near the border with the Palestinian territories. On Wednesday, police found 240 old anti-tank mines and six artillery shells stashed in the mountains of central Sinai.

A security source said police suspect the owners planned to empty the ordnance, left over from 20th century wars, and smuggle the explosive material to Palestinian groups.

The Israeli government often complains about the smuggling of weapons, ammunition and explosives across the Egypt-Gaza border. Egypt says it does its best to stop it.
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