‘Egypt has done more damage to Gaza tunnels in a few weeks than Israel did in 2 decades’
- Egypt floods tunnels on Gaza border
- Palestinian charged with diverting Gaza rehabilitation materials to Hamas terrorists
Cairo has been pumping water into Gaza’s underground network of tunnels to stop the flow of weapons from the coastal envoy to militants in Sinai.
GAZA – Mahmoud Bakeer speaks with despair about the night of the flash flood, when he screamed at his wife and five children to flee their home on Gaza’s border with Egypt as the water rushed in.
They made it to safety during the flooding last week, but a network of Palestinian tunnels running under the frontier town of Rafah is now water-logged, destroyed by Cairo to sever what it says is a weapons smuggling route out of Gaza for Islamist insurgents in Egypt’s Sinai desert.
For Bakeer, 61, the fact that Egypt, once a gateway to the world for Gaza’s 1.8 million Palestinians, was behind his family’s suffering, was particularly painful.
“We respect our neighbors, we love Egypt, but our neighbors are making our life harder,” he said in his one-story unfinished cinder block house, around which water seeps and cracks in the ground are growing wider.
Egypt’s pumping of salt water from the nearby Mediterranean into the tunnels is not only creating a mess as it rises to the surface. Palestinian officials say it is also contaminating water supplies as well as threatening to wreck farmland and spread disease.
Local residents say that at the peak of the tunnel business, after Hamas Islamists seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 and Israel tightened a closure of its crossings into the enclave, nearly 2,500 underground passages snaked under the border with Egypt.
The direction of traffic was mainly into Gaza. Commercial goods – and weapons smuggled in separate tunnels controlled by Hamas and other militant factions – flowed in defiance of what Palestinians and many of their supporters decried as neighboring Israel’s siege.
In 2008-10, some tunnel owners were said to have become dollar millionaires as they shifted everything from Hummer vehicles and washing machines to cows and sheep through the underground system. Hamas imposed a tax on shipments.
At one point an estimated 22,000 Palestinians worked in the tunnel “industry”. However, it shrank markedly in 2010 after Israel, under international pressure to ease restrictions on commercial imports into Gaza, allowed more goods in through its overland crossings.
Then this September, battling an insurgency in northern Sinai, Egypt decided to shut down the tunnels once and for all. Determined to halt what it said was an arms flow in the opposite direction, from Gaza to the militants, it cleared the
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