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Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Gaza minister: Egypt tunnel crackdown will fail

Gaza minister: Egypt tunnel crackdown will fail
Published today (updated) 20/02/2013 20:41
http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=567409

GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Egypt's crackdown on smuggling tunnels to the Gaza
Strip will not succeed unless alternatives to importing produce are
provided, an official in Gaza's Hamas-run government said Wednesday.

Several days ago, Egyptian forces began flooding smuggling tunnels under the
Gaza border in a campaign to shut them down. The tunnels have provided a
lifeline to Palestinians since Israel intensified its blockade of the Gaza
Strip in 2007.

"This is not the first time the Egyptian authorities have tried to shut down
the tunnels, but neither of of the attempts have been successful," Minister
of Economy Alaa Rafati told Ma'an.

The government in Gaza has informed Cairo several times that an official
commercial route should be opened along the border, including a duty-free
zone, Rafati said.

"We are interested in entry of all goods via Rafah crossing," the minister
said.

Rafati said that despite the flooding of tunnels, all goods, including fuel,
were still entering the enclave.

"Some Egyptian commanders are flooding tunnels on their own for personal
interests," he added.

Muhammad al-Abadla, a member of the union of gas station owners, said fuel
supplies had been affected by the Egyptian crackdown but that the situation
was not critical.

Dozens of tunnels had been destroyed since last August following the killing
of 16 Egyptian soldiers in a militant attack near the Gaza fence.

Cairo said some of the gunmen had crossed into Egypt via the tunnels -- a
charge denied by Palestinians -- and ordered an immediate crackdown.

The move surprised and angered Gaza's rulers, which had hoped for much
better ties with Cairo following the election last year of Egyptian
President Mohamed Mursi, an Islamist who is ideologically close to Hamas.

While Gaza's rulers have been reluctant to criticise Mursi in public,
ordinary Gazans are slightly more vocal.

"Egyptian measures against tunnels have worsened since the election of
Mursi. Our Hamas brothers thought he would open up Gaza. I guess they were
wrong," said a tunnel owner, who identified himself only as Ayed, fearing
reprisal.

"Perhaps 150 or 200 tunnels have been shut since the Sinai attack. This is
the Mursi era," he added.

The tunnellers fear the water being pumped underground might collapse the
passage ways, with possible disastrous consequences.

"Water can cause cracks in the wall and may cause the collapse of the
tunnel. It may kill people," said Ahmed al-Shaer, a tunnel worker whose
cousin died a year ago when a tunnel caved in on him.

Six Palestinians died in January in tunnel implosions, raising the death
toll amongst workers to 233 since 2007, according to human rights groups,
including an estimated 20 who died in various Israeli air attacks on the
border lands.

At one stage an estimated 2,500-3,000 tunnels snaked their way under the
desert fence but the network has shrunk markedly since 2010, when Israel
eased some of the limits they imposed on imports into the coastal enclave.

All goods still have to be screened before entering Gaza and Israel says
some restrictions must remain on items that could be used to make or to
store weapons.

This ensures the tunnels are still active, particularly to bring in building
materials. Hamas also prefers using the tunnels to smuggle in fuel, thereby
avoiding custom dues that are payable on oil crossing via Israel.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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