JERUSALEM, Israel - Against the backdrop of a recent escalation in tensions along the Israeli-Gaza border, Egyptian security forces have uncovered a large weapons cache in the Sinai Desert believed to be bound for the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported on Tuesday.
The weapons stockpile, buried in a hole inside an abandoned warehouse deep in the Egyptian Sinai Desert south of Gaza, included dozens of anti-aircraft artillery shells and a number of anti-aircraft missiles, the report said.
Weapons found in the Sinai are suspected of being en route to the Hamas terrorist organization via smuggling tunnels under the border.
Earlier this year Egyptian security personnel reportedly uncovered a number of weapons caches in the Sinai, including machine guns, ammunition, anti-aircraft shells, artillery shells, anti-tank landmines and more than 200 pounds of explosives.
Just about everything from live cows to food to weapons has been smuggled through the tunnels since Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip three years ago, when Israel clamped an embargo on the borders with Gaza except for humanitarian aid.
Trouble along the Israeli-Gaza border has increased in the last few weeks, with stepped up rocket fire from Gaza on southern Israeli communities prompting an increase in Israeli air strikes on weapons storage facilities and smuggling tunnels.
Over the weekend Hamas' armed wing reaffirmed its commitment to continue what it calls its resistance against Israel, saying Israel has two options: to leave Palestianian territories or face death. Hamas wants to see all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel as an Islamic Palestinian state.
Israeli army chief Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said on Monday that Israel would not accept rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip.
Two years after Operation Cast Lead - a major military operation in the Gaza Strip intended to stop terrorist rocket fire on Israeli communities - the situation is "different and calmer," Ashkenazi said.
Nevertheless, rockets and mortars are still fired from Gaza from time to time and Israel holds Hamas responsible, he said. Ashkenazi said Israel hopes the situation in the south would not deteriorate but the army "is preparing for any scenario," he said.
The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz contributed to this report.