GAZA CITY — Egypt has begun building a concrete wall along its border with the Gaza Strip, AFP journalists and a Palestinian security official from the Hamas terror group said Wednesday.
Dozens of workers aided by cranes could be seen erecting the structure, which will stretch some three kilometers (two miles) from Gaza’s southeastern tip at Karem Shalom to the Rafah crossing with Egypt, the only gateway out of Gaza that does not lead into Israel.
The wall is being built along the lines of an old, lower barrier that includes an underground structure designed to curb smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.
Contacted by AFP, Egypt’s military declined to comment on the new structure.
A Hamas security source told AFP that the goal was “to complete (the wall) as quickly as possible.”
“The important thing for us is to control the border and prevent any illegal activity there,” including any cross-border trafficking, the source said.
It was unclear if Egypt planned on extending the wall to the north beyond the Rafah border crossing. Egypt’s border with Gaza stretches approximately 12 kilometers (7.5 miles).
Israel tightly controls entry and exit to Gaza as part of an effort to keep Hamas and other terror groups in the Strip from building up military capabilities.
Egypt has only intermittently opened the Rafah crossing in recent years, and has worked to crack down on a network of smuggling tunnels that once ran beneath the frontier.
A security delegation from Egypt led by General Ahmed Abdelkahliq, who heads Palestinian affairs at Egypt’s intelligence agency, was in Gaza last week seeking to restore calm between Israel and Hamas, the de-facto ruler of the Strip.
Hamas and the Jewish state have fought three wars since 2008. Israel had unilaterally withdrawn all troops and dismantled all settlements in the Strip three years earlier.
Egypt, long a mediator between the two sides, and key Gaza donor Qatar have been working to broker a long-term ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas.
The Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad, considered the second most powerful terror group in Gaza, has not endorsed such a truce.
Earlier Wednesday, Israel’s military said an Islamic Jihad sniper team opened fire on a group of Israeli soldiers and police officers along the southern Gaza border.
It said no troops were injured but Israeli forces returned fire and “a hit was identified.”
Officials in Gaza said an Islamic Jihad fighter was slightly injured.
The attack on Wednesday came hours after Israel announced it planned to end a series of “sanctions” on the Gaza Strip, following a period of relative calm.