Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Monday the desert border between Israel and Egypt could become an "operational base" for jihadists if security is not maintained. Israel has raised concerns about the region in the wake of the fall of the Mubarak government.
In an interview with CNN, Clinton said the problem was discussed at length during her meetings in Egypt and Israel.
There is "the potential of jihadists and terrorists taking up an operational base in Sinai," Clinton said in the interview. "We think this is a dangerous situation for both Egypt and Israel. It is also dangerous for Americans. We have Americans who are part of the multinational force that observes the continuation of the monitoring (of the) Camp David Accord. We have Americans in the Sinai. We've had a few concerns about their safety."
Israeli officials told CNN's Security Clearance recently that Egypt needs to get a handle on terror cells in the Sinai. Israel is extremely concerned about cross-border attacks over the past year or so, including a deadly attack last August. In that incident, a group of militants engaged in a string of terror strikes on buses, civilian vehicles and soldiers 20 kilometers north of the resort city of Eilat, Israel, leaving eight people dead.
Clinton said that Egypt's new president, Mohamed Morsy, recognizes the danger. Two Americans kidnapped this weekend in North Sinai were released on Monday after three days in captivity.
"I think he is concerned about any part of the country that might cause problems for Egyptians and for others beyond his border. And certainly in my meeting with (head of the Egyptian military) Field Marshall (Mohamed) Tantawi, he is very focused on that as well," Clinton said in the interview as she wrapped up her nearly two-week trip to the Middle East, Asia and Europe.
The secretary of state was diplomatic about Egyptian protestors who hurled tomatoes, shoes and shouts of "Monica, Monica" as Clinton left the newly reopened American consulate in Alexandria.
"There is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety in Egypt right now. They're doing something they have never done in 5,000-plus years of history. They have had elections, they elected a president but still don't have a government," Clinton said. "There are understandable concerns by many, many Egyptians. I don't think that is at all unusual.
"But what I was looking for was a chance to hear directly from people, and I knew very well there would be a lot of passion and conviction expressed, which I think demonstrates how invested Egyptians are in trying to make sure their democratic transition works out for the benefit of all Egyptians."