News / Middle East

Egypt Steps Up Gaza Tunnel Crackdown, Dismaying Palestinians

A Palestinian man calls on smugglers as he works inside a smuggling tunnel beneath the Gaza-Egypt border in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, June 24, 2013.
A Palestinian man calls on smugglers as he works inside a smuggling tunnel beneath the Gaza-Egypt border in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, June 24, 2013.
Reuters
Egypt has intensified a crackdown on smuggling tunnels between its volatile Sinai desert and the Gaza Strip, causing a steep hike in petrol and cement prices in the Palestinian territory.
 
Palestinians involved in the tunnel business said that the campaign, which began in March and has included flooding of underground passages, was ramped up in the past two weeks before a wave of opposition-led protests in Egypt expected to start on June 30.
 
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has come under political fire at home over a strong challenge to his authority by militant Islamists in the Sinai who have attacked Egyptian security forces in the peninsula.
 
Egypt's military, struggling to fill a security vacuum in the Sinai since autocrat Hosni Mubarak was swept from power in 2011, has pledged to shut all tunnels under the Gaza border, saying they are used by militants on both sides to smuggle activists and weapons.
 
The moves against the tunnels have dashed the hopes of many Palestinians that Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood from which Hamas was born, would significantly ease Egyptian border restrictions on Gaza, which is also subjected to blockade by Israel.
 
“Business is clinically dead,'' said Abu Bassam, who employs 40 workers in a Palestinian tunnel network in Rafah, a town on the border. “Tunnels are almost shut down completely.''
 
Only 50 to 70 tunnels, out of hundreds that have provided a commercial lifeline for the Gaza Strip, are still open and in partial operation, owners said. Other tunnels are used to smuggle in weapons for militants from Hamas and other groups.
 
The Egyptian army has sternly warned residents in Sinai not to approach the fence with Gaza and to stop trading through tunnels or face punishment, according to Palestinian tunnel owners who learned about the order from Egyptian counterparts.
 
“Today we have to pay extra money to convince an Egyptian driver to bring goods to us..., resulting in rising prices of basic materials here,'' said Abu Ali, another tunnel owner, standing beside the shaft of his deserted tunnel.
 
High prices
 
The price of cement in Gaza has soared from 350 shekels ($95) a ton to 800 shekels ($217). Palestinians who bought relatively cheap petrol smuggled from Egypt now have to pay for fuel imported from Israel selling for double the price.
 
The scene of long queues of vehicles outside petrol stations has become common in past two weeks, with taxi drivers waiting to snap up small quantities of fuel trickling in from tunnels that are still operating.
 
One tunnel owner, who employs 24 workers, said he was now bringing in 50 tons of food products a day compared with 300 tons two weeks ago.
 
Many Gaza residents complain they have been without cooking gas for weeks, with tunnel supplies low and imports from Israel scarce.
 
Ghazi Hamad, deputy foreign minister in the Hamas government, said it understood Morsi's complicated internal situation and would be prepared to close all tunnels if Egypt allowed goods through Rafah, its only Gaza crossing.
 
At Rafah, where cross-border passenger movement increased significantly soon after Morsi took office, passage has been particularly slow recently and hundreds of people have had to delay their trips.
 
Egyptian officials cited technical problems.
 
Israel maintains an overland and sea blockade of the Gaza Strip but has eased some import restrictions in the past several years in the face of international criticism.
 
It announced on Monday the closure of its only commercial crossing with Gaza until further notice in response to overnight cross-border rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.

You May Like

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan

Ninety percent of world’s heroin comes from Afghanistan More

Here's Your Chance to Live in a Deserted Shopping Mall

About one-third of the 1200 enclosed malls in the US are dead or dying. Here's what's being done with them. More

Video NASA: Big Antarctica Ice Shelf Is Disintegrating

US space agency’s new study indicates Larsen B shelf could break up in just a few years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs