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Middle East

Hamas appeals to Egypt military over tunnels

Clampdown on smuggling tunnels, a lifeline for the territory's 1.7m population, is causing vital supplies to diminish.

Last Modified: 21 Jul 2013 14:41
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Tunnel closures since June have cost Gaza around $230m, around a tenth of the territory's GDP [EPA]

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are reeling from another crackdown on smuggling tunnels.

But this time they are blaming Egypt, the neighbouring Arab power they once hoped would end their isolation, rather than their old foe Israel.

In recent weeks the Egyptian army has destroyed many of the smuggling tunnels that ran under the Egypt-Gaza border and which had provided the cramped coastal enclave with commercial goods as well as weaponry.

There are elements that use these tunnels to inflict harm on Egyptian and Palestinians on both sides of the border

Egyptian official

On Thursday, Hamas appealed to Egypt's new rulers not to pursue its destruction of smuggling tunnels, warning they risked throttling the small Palestinian territory.

Ismael Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas Gaza government, called for the Egyptian army to fully open the crossings if it wants to get rid of the tunnels.

"If the tunnels are to be closed, and by the way we are not against that but under one condition which is the opening of the crossings, and Rafah crossing should be opened for both passengers and goods and the other crossing should work normally in order to get all what is needed into Gaza," Haniyeh said.

Ordinary Palestinians, many of them dependent on UN aid handouts, have seen prices for staple goods skyrocket.

"There is a difficult humanitarian situation in Gaza because of the Egyptian measures on the borders," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

"Most of the tunnels were demolished and the few that remain open are paralysed."

Israel still maintains a strict control of all imports into Gaza in what it claims is a measure to prevent arms reaching Hamas.

Tunnel closures

Tunnel crackdown began last year after attacks in the Sinai, but has gathered pace since the Egyptian military removed President Mohamed Morsi from power this month.

Ala Al-Rafati, the Hamas economy minister, said tunnel closures since June had cost Gaza around $230m, around a tenth of the GDP of the territory, whose 1.7 million residents suffer more than 30 percent unemployment.

"The continued restrictions threaten to bring construction projects to a complete halt," he said, referring to cement that has been brought through the tunnels, along with everything from foodstuffs to electrical appliances to the occasional car.

An Egyptian official who spoke to the Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity said the anti-tunnel campaign was only for security needs: "There are elements that use these tunnels to inflict harm on Egyptian and Palestinians on both sides of the border."

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