Israel digs deep to thwart tunnel threat from Gaza Strip

An entrance to what the Israeli military say is a cross-border attack tunnel dug from Gaza to Israel, is seen on the Israeli side of the Gaza Strip border near Kissufim January 18, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 18 January 2018
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Israel digs deep to thwart tunnel threat from Gaza Strip

KISSUFIM: Massive earthworks and mounds of sandy soil line the Israel-Gaza border as the Israeli military forges ahead with an ambitious subterranean barrier to detect and prevent attack tunnels from reaching southern Israel from the Palestinian enclave.
Israeli military officials on Thursday touted the secretive project as a major deterrent against what Israel has seen as a strategic threat since the last war against Hamas exposed the extent of the tunnels. Israel has made uncovering the tunnels from Gaza a priority and in recent months has demolished at least three through a combination of intelligence, infantry operations and hi-tech sensors.
Israel began construction of a 40-mile long underground wall last summer, aiming to prevent Palestinian militants from burrowing toward Israeli communities along the border.
“The technology really is groundbreaking,” Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said in a briefing with journalists on the border with the Gaza Strip. “The message to Hamas is: ‘We now have this system which can detect and destroy terror tunnels that violate Israeli sovereignty.’“
Conricus said that the anti-tunnel barrier under construction “provides a significant challenge for anyone tunneling below,” without elaborating.
Israel and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, have fought three wars since 2008. During the most recent conflict in 2014, Hamas militants on several occasions caught Israel off guard by attacking through the underground tunnel network.
While Hamas fighters did not manage to reach Israeli civilian centers, five Israeli soldiers were killed in such attacks, which rattled the Israeli public. Israel destroyed 32 tunnels during that conflict, and has prioritized anti-tunnel operations since.
Excavating machines, concrete mixers and hundreds of workers toil furiously as part of Israel’s deadly underground game of cat and mouse with the Gaza militants.
The barrier — hundreds of feet below ground, studded with sensors and topped by a 26-foot metal fence — has an estimated price tag of $700 million and is on track for its slated completion in mid-2019, a senior Israeli military official said Thursday. Thus far, crews working 24 hours a day, six days a week have completed 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) of the 64-kilometer (40-mile) border barrier.
Wary of tipping off enemies, Israeli military officials were reticent to discuss particulars concerning the barrier’s tunnel detection capabilities, or precisely how far into the earth the wall goes.
“It’s deep enough,” a senior Israeli military official said. Cranes hoisted 25-meter-long rebar cages into the air, and the official said “several get welded together” to form the concrete wall’s reinforced spine.
Thus far, Hamas has not tried to disrupt construction, and giant earth berms protect workers from spying eyes and small arms fire. A senior Israeli military official said that while neither side wants to start a new round of violence, minor incidents along the border had the potential to snowball into a larger conflict quickly.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The military on Thursday also showcased a tunnel destroyed in late October — its demolition left a dozen militants dead.
The meter-wide concrete-lined shaft penetrated hundreds of yards into southern Israel toward nearby Kibbutz Kissufim. Its destruction prompted retaliatory rocket fire by the Islamic Jihad militant group. Another tunnel was demolished late last year and on Sunday, Israel said it destroyed a 1.5-kilometer (1-mile) tunnel built by Hamas which stretched from the Gaza Strip, through Israel and into Egypt.
“Now we’ll see how Hamas responds to these new developments,” Conricus said.
Hazem Qassem, a Hamas spokesman, said the group would find a way around the wall.
“Our people have proved that they are always capable of finding means and mechanisms to overcome all measures by the (Israeli) occupation. Our people have many ways to defend themselves,” he said, without elaborating.
An Israeli military map of the Gaza Strip shown to reporters illustrated the miles of Hamas and Islamic Jihad tunnels honeycombing the Palestinian territory. The military estimates that working around the clock, a couple dozen militants can dig 10 meters (yards) of tunnel per day.


Egyptians hope foreign university campuses will boost higher education

Updated 52 min 3 sec ago
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Egyptians hope foreign university campuses will boost higher education

  • The law to allow foreign campuses was approved by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi this month
  • Experts say the move will help improve Egyptian universities

CAIRO: A new law approved by the Egyptian president that allows foreign universities to establish campuses in Egypt, aims to boost the development of higher education and scientific research in the country.

The architects of the new law also hope it will build links with other countries to provide more and better educational opportunities, and preserving the national identity of Egyptian students.

Applications from foreign universities will be examined by a committee formed and headed by the minister of higher education, which will include representatives from other ministries and relevant authorities. 

The minister will have the right to close the campus of a foreign university if it violates Egyptian laws or decisions by the authorities, and to prevent the university from accepting new students.

The law was approved by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi this month after passing through parliament in July.

Experts and university professors have differing opinions on the likely effects of foreign universities setting up in Egypt. While many suggest that Egyptian universities will develop and improve to compete, some fear the opposite will happen.

Youssef Rashid, acting secretary of the Supreme Council of Universities, said he believes the new law is good and will increase competition among universities, as a result improving the quality of education everywhere.

Abdullah Sorour, founder of the Union of Egyptian scientists, said: “A partnership between foreign universities and Egyptian universities is the best way forward.” He added that existing foreign education institutes in Egypt do not have a clear identity.

The proposal was first raised more than a year ago but gained traction in June 2018 after Dr. Khalid Abdul Ghaffar, the current minister of higher education, signed a cooperation agreement with the University of Liverpool in England. He described the agreement as “a sign of confidence in the Egyptian education system” and “evidence of the stability of the country.” He added that the British university will “soon” establish a campus in Egypt, and that there are further plans for cooperation with universities in the United States and Canada.

The new law stipulates that foreign universities in Egypt will be free to set their own tuition fees, but that Egyptian students must be allowed to pay in Egyptian pounds. The fees cannot be increased after enrollment. Some people expressed a hope that the increased competition would drive down the cost of tuition fees.

“We want these universities to be cheaper that their Egyptian counterparts,” said Ahmad Al-Lundi, who works at a bank. He said he pays 50,000 Egyptian pounds a year in tuition fees for his son, who is studying in the Faculty of Pharmacy at Al-Ahram Canadian University, and EGP 41,500 for his daughter, who attends Future University.

The cost of tuition at private universities in Egypt varies wildly. The annual fees at the Egyptian Russian University — which has only three faculties: oral medicine, engineering and pharmacy — range from EGP 33,000 to EGP 58,000, while the British University charges about EGP 80,000 for its dentistry faculty, EGP 60,000 for business administration, economics and political science, and EGP 75,000 EGP for engineering and pharmacy. The October University of Modern Sciences and Literature (MSA), which has nine faculties, charges a tuition fee of EGP 87,500 a year for dentistry and EGP 63,500 for pharmacy, in addition to the cost of a British certificate, which is 325 euros.