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Egypt says Israel incited U.S. Congress on aid

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt accused Israel in an interview published on Tuesday of inciting U.S. lawmakers to damage relations between Egypt and the United States.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit was referring to a Congressional threat to withhold $100 million in military aid to Egypt unless the Egyptians crack down on arms smuggling into Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas.

Aboul Gheit, in the interview with the Egyptian newspaper Rose el-Youssef on the eve of a visit to Egypt by U.S. President George W. Bush, denied that relations between Cairo and the U.S. administration were tense over the smuggling question.

But he added: “Israel has succeeded in inciting the U.S. Congress, and not the U.S. administration, by putting some sticks in the wheels of this relationship.”

Egypt has complained before about Israeli attempts to influence Congress, especially after Israelis circulated what they said was videotape of Egyptian security forces helping Hamas militants smuggle weapons through tunnels into Gaza.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Israel had fabricated the evidence and defended his country’s record on smuggling.

Aboul Gheit added: “Some people on the U.S. side adopted the Israeli position, and the U.S. aid programme (to Egypt) came to be targeted... We succeeded in cutting Israel down to its real size as far as its talk about the tunnels is concerned.”

The minister said he thought the dispute was coming to an end after the United States offered to give Egypt special equipment to enable it to detect tunnels along the border.

Visits to the border area by U.S. members of Congress and congressional aides have also helped, he added.

Bush is expected to talk with Mubarak about the arrangements on the Gaza border.