Israel's military has assessed that Palestinian weapons smuggling from neighboring Egypt has significantly increased since the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Military sources said hundreds of weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank rockets and bomb components, have been smuggled over the last three days from the Sinai Peninsula to the Gaza Strip. The sources said Palestinian insurgents brought the equipment from Egypt in wake of the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
So far, more than 10,000 Palestinians have crossed the Gaza border and made their way to towns in eastern and northern Sinai. The sources said they included hundreds of operatives from Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, some of whom directed the flow of Palestinians into Sinai.
'In the first moments of Israel's abandoning of Gaza they smuggled weapons,' Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Yuval Steinitz said. 'The ink on the agreement has not even dried and the Philadelphi route [Egyptian-Gaza border] is being used for massive weapons smuggling.'"
Black-market prices for weapons dropped sharply, with AK-47 assault rifles nearly cut in half to $1,300 and even steeper reductions for handguns.
News of the smuggling came as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas tried to impose order after the Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza this week. Militant groups scoffed at a new Palestinian Authority demand that they disband after parliamentary elections in January, saying they would not surrender weapons.
Egypt had assured Israel it would prevent weapons smuggling once its troops took over from Israel along the Gaza frontier, and Cairo and the Palestinian Authority pledged to seal the once-heavily defended border by Wednesday evening.
Hundreds of people continued to cross the border between Gaza and Egypt unhindered on Thursday despite efforts by police on both sides of the frontier to assert control.
Around 30 Palestinian police and 20 Egyptian border guards took up positions at dawn on the main road straddling the border, previously blocked by a mound of earth, but just hours later they failed to stop a group of Palestinians.
Children in school uniform, men and women also crossed the border as Palestinian police were preparing tea a short distance away.
An AFP correspondent was also allowed to cross the border through a hole in the border wall before returning minutes later.
"We have stopped the flow and we are bringing the situation under control now," a senior Egyptian security official in the area told Agence France Presse on condition of anonymity.
Overnight, unidentified people blew a second hole through a concrete wall by Israel on the border, allowing people to cross easily.
Egyptian authorities in Rafah on Wednesday urged Palestinians who had entered Egypt illegally to return to Gaza.