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Egypt army plans buffer zone along Gaza border

Sept. 1, 2013 4:43 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 4, 2013 10:35 P.M.)
CAIRO (Ma'an) -- Egypt plans to impose a 500-meter buffer zone along its border with the Gaza Strip, a senior Egyptian military official said Sunday.

Egyptian residents living in Saladin, al-Barahmeh, Canada, Brazil, al-Sarsouriya and other neighborhoods close to the Gaza border have received eviction notices.

Homeowners who received eviction orders demonstrated against the decision and burned tires in protest.

Army bulldozers have also uprooted trees in the border area.

The army has demolished 13 homes in the al-Sarsouriya neighborhood where tunnel entrances were found.

An Egyptian military official told Ma'an that most cross-border tunnels with entrances in fields or open areas had been destroyed in a security campaign to stop smuggling. He said it was more difficult to locate tunnels that opened into houses.

Egypt's army spokesman Ahmad Mohammad said that forces have destroyed 343 smuggling tunnels. He said the Egyptian military has also prohibited fishing near the border to prevent smuggling via the sea.

Hamas said Friday that two Palestinian fishermen were wounded and five others arrested by the Egyptian navy off the coast of the Gaza Strip.

"Some Egyptian navy ships fired in the direction of Palestinian fishing boats near the Egyptian border off the coast of Rafah at dawn on Friday," the Hamas government's press agency reported.

"Two fishermen were wounded and five others arrested," said Hamas.

They were both taken to the hospital in Rafah, medical sources said, adding that their lives were not in danger.

Hamas described the incident as an "unjustified act," and called for those "detained to be freed."

Egypt did not immediately confirm the incident, which took place amid growing tensions with Hamas.

Gaza fishing boats often venture into Egyptian waters to compensate for the restriction caused by a maritime blockade imposed by Israel on the coastal strip.

But the practice has been less and less tolerated, since former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood is close to Hamas, was ousted in a military coup on July 3.

Under the terms of the current Israeli restrictions, Gaza fishermen are not allowed to enter waters more than six nautical miles from the shore, and complain that the area is insufficient to support the needs of Gaza's population.
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