Mubarak defends Egypt's Gaza border fortifications

Mubarak defends Egypt's Gaza border fortifications

Egypt's President Hosny Mubarak on Sunday defended his governments steps to increase security along the border with the Gaza Strip that have drawn criticism, dpa reported.

"Fortifications along our eastern border are a work of Egyptian sovereignty, and we refuse to enter into a debate with anyone (about them,)" Mubarak said in a speech to mark the annual holiday of Police Day.

Government-owned newspapers had for days trumpeted the address as a "major speech."

The government has faced rising domestic and regional criticism since a report first published by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz said Egypt was building an underground steel barrier along the Gaza border to curtail smuggling through tunnels under the border.

Officials from Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, have reacted angrily to the reported plans, and an Egyptian border guard was fatally shot when clashes broke out at a Palestinian protest against the underground wall.

In the weeks since, criticism of the wall has often figured on political talk shows and in opposition newspapers.

Egypt has never explicitly confirmed it is building such a wall, but has repeatedly justified any steps to defend its border as a matter of "national security" and "sovereignty."

Mubarak on noted Egypt's efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and to reconcile rival Palestinian factions, in defending the country's policy on Israel against "Arab and regional" critics who he said "trade in and exploit the Palestinian cause and the suffering of the Palestinian people."

Egypt rejects "this pressure and blackmail, and will not allow chaos on its borders, or terrorism and sabotage in its territory," he said.

Mubarak said the government had "much documented information" on those behind the criticism, and could respond to them if it chose to do so, but preferred "to rise above such trivial things."

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