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Egyptian patrol besieged by smugglers near Gaza

Bedouin gunmen ambushed an Egyptian patrol that had seized contraband cement destined for the Gaza Strip, triggering an hours-long standoff in the desert that left one officer and five troops wounded, security officials said Tuesday.

The security force, reinforced with two armored cars and nearly a dozen police vans, had acted on a tip looking for a smugglers' warehouse in the mountainous area in Egypt's Sinai peninsula, just south of the border town of Rafah.

The force seized 200 tons of cement that the smugglers had planned to take to Gaza through a network of tunnels, a local security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.


Local Bedouin tribes involved with the contraband got word of the raid and ambushed the force, besieging it for over four hours, the official said.

The gunmen burned tires, fired their guns into the air and threw stones at the police, said a security official in Rafah, speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reason as his colleague. The troops used tear gas to repel the siege, he said.

It was unclear how the six were wounded.

Cement is a much coveted product in the Gaza, which has been under a crippling economic blockade since 2007 following the violent takeover by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The Egyptian officials said reinforcement was deployed to the area, and negotiated with Bedouin chiefs to ensure the ambush ended.

The cross-border Gaza tunnels were among the main targets of a punitive three-week Israeli military air and land campaign that started in late December. The tunnels, Israel said, were used to smuggle weapons.

A trickle of goods are now allowed into Gaza through commercial border crossings but Israel bans shipments of cement and other building material, fearing they could be used by militants.

Thousands of Gaza homes were damaged or destroyed during Israel's offensive. U.N. officials have warned many Gazans will be left homeless if construction material is not allowed in for them to rebuild.

Source: The Associated Press

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