News / Middle East

Hamas Reeling from Egyptian Crackdown on Gaza Tunnels

A Palestinian tunnel worker uses his mobile as he rests inside a smuggling tunnel beneath the Gaza-Egypt border in the southern Gaza Strip, July 19, 2013.
A Palestinian tunnel worker uses his mobile as he rests inside a smuggling tunnel beneath the Gaza-Egypt border in the southern Gaza Strip, July 19, 2013.
Reuters
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are reeling from another devastating blockade but this time they are blaming Egypt, the neighboring Arab power they once hoped would end their isolation, rather than their old foe Israel.

In a few weeks of digging, dynamiting and drenching, Cairo's troops have 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.

The Islamist Hamas government, which taxes much of the traffic through the underground passages, has been hit hard by the losses. Ordinary Palestinians, many of them dependent on U.N. 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 paralyzed."

He likened the crisis to 2007, when Israel, responding to the Hamas takeover of Gaza in a brief civil war with Western-backed Palestinian rivals, clamped down on the territory.

Israel still maintains a strict control of all imports into Gaza to prevent arms reaching Hamas, which refuses to recognize the Jewish state and has often clashed with it. Under international accords, merchandise cannot be imported via Egypt.

Cairo mobilized against the tunnels after jihadi militants in the Egyptian Sinai desert killed 16 of its soldiers a year ago. Egypt said some of the gunmen had slipped into Sinai from nearby Gaza, an accusation denied by Hamas.

The tunnel crackdown has gathered pace since the Egyptian military removed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi from power this month. Morsi's short-lived rule had already disappointed Hamas, since despite their shared ideology he appeared in no rush to open the Gaza border.

With Morsi now gone, Hamas openly despairs - not least as it has also parted ways with insurgency-hit Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who had long hosted the Palestinian faction's foreign headquarters, and lost key funding from Damascus's ally Iran.

10 percent of GDP lost

Ala al-Rafati, the Hamas economy minister, said tunnel closures since June had cost Gaza around $230 million - 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 Reuters 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."

Ehud Yaari, a Middle East analyst from Israel who has studied the Sinai situation in depth, said that while Egypt had stemmed the flow of weapons into Gaza, it was permitting a measured flow of commercial goods to prevent massive shortfalls.

"When the Egyptians felt there was a shortage of fuel in Gaza, they allowed certain tunnels that carry fuel in to operate for a few days. They are very sensitive to the situation inside Gaza," Yaari said - an observation the Egyptian official declined to confirm or deny.

A diplomat who monitors Gaza agreed that the tunnel closures posed a strategic setback to Hamas's rocket arsenal, which was targeted in an aerial blitz by Israel last November.

Though Hamas has largely observed an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire since then, and kept smaller Gaza factions to the deal as well, the diplomat, who asked not to be identified, predicted that the Islamists would redouble local production of weaponry and try to circumvent the tunnel closures.

"Longer, deeper and well-hidden tunnels could be one of those ways," he said.

Abu Zuhri said Hamas's first concern was providing for the Palestinians' day-to-day needs.

"We are capable of creating alternatives to contend with any crisis," he said. "The ongoing closure of tunnels without making an alternative is practically strangling Gaza."

Hamas has repeatedly but fruitlessly urged Egypt to allow goods to enter through a land corridor. Indeed, at Rafah, the sole passenger terminal on the border, Egypt was on Sunday restricting passage to compassionate cases only. Even that was an improvement on frequent periods in which Rafah was shuttered.

"We are aware of the humanitarian needs in the Gaza Strip, and Rafah crossing opens for those who need to travel," the Egyptian official said. "We want people in Gaza to be assured Egypt will never abandon their side and will always be a major supporter of the Palestinian national cause."

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs