Security officials said the members of central security force joined a similar number of border guards already deployed along the area known as the Philadelphi Corridor, fearing the possible Israeli operation's impact on civilians living on the Egyptian side of the border.

One Egyptian official told Reuters on Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity: "We are following the situation with extreme concern and we have not received any warnings from the Israeli side about this operation."

The Israeli army declined to comment on the report.

The report

The Israeli daily newspaper Maariv reported on Friday that precision-guided weapons would be used to penetrate deep underground in the hope of destroying the tunnel network that the Jewish state says riddles the area, which is 11 km long (6.5 miles) and approximately 100 metres wide.
   
The decision to use 'smart' bombs may be a substitute to re-occupying the entire region, the newspaper said.

Israel says that it has been unable to control weapons smuggling into Gaza since it withdrew its forces from the coastal strip last year.

Israel started to target underground passages in the area after Palestinian fighters tunnelled into Israel and captured one of its soldiers in a raid on June 25. The operation also sparked an expanded Israeli military offensive that killed more than 250 Palestinians, about half of them civilians.

Maariv reported that the air force was given the green light to drop bombs after a similar campaign successfully destroyed tunnels along the northern Gaza border with Israel.

Security concern

"There are schools, banks, markets and residential buildings close to the border with Gaza, which makes the use of such bombs more dangerous"

An Egyptian security official

Egyptian security and border officials said the possible Israeli operation could threaten around 20,000 civilians who live close to the border.
   
"There are schools, banks, markets and residential buildings close to the border with Gaza, which makes the use of such bombs more dangerous," one official said.
   
Several Egyptian civilians were killed and many wounded from cross-border bomb shrapnel during Israeli attacks on the Palestinian border town of Rafah before the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
   
Egyptian police recently seized 195 crates of automatic weapons and ammunition meant to be smuggled across the border and the Israeli army said its troops discovered 15 tunnels along the border during the past week.
   
Israel estimates that tonnes of munitions, including advanced shoulder-fire missiles, have been smuggled into Gaza through the tunnels, though they have presented scarce evidence that Gaza fighters use such weaponry.