Despite efforts by Egypt’s military to crackdown on Palestinian smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Sinai and destroy them, hundreds of tunnels are still active, Palestinian smugglers told the Hamas-affiliated daily Felesteen Sunday.
Tunnel operators have been working over the weekend to bring in food supplies, building materials and fuel since a number of tunnels have been destroyed both on the Egyptian and the Palestinian sides of the border. But according to one smuggler, hundreds of tunnels continue to operate, undetected by the Egyptian army which has increased its presence along the border.
Wahid, who smuggles cement from Egypt to Gaza, told Felesteen that his supplies have decreased on the Egyptian side due to the heightened security presence in Sinai. He said that the Egyptian forces have filled up a negligible number of tunnels compared to the hundreds that still operate. Wahid added that a number of tunnel owners have closed their tunnels and hid the openings, lest the Egyptian army discover and destroy them.
Egypt moved to shut down the tunnels after 16 policemen were killed in a raid on a border police post in the town of Rafah which sits near the borders with Gaza and Israel.
Islamic movement Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, has unprecedentedly asked the Egyptians to shut tunnels along the border, suggesting the formation of an Egyptian-trained force to defend the border.
Hamas has requested that Egypt upgrade the Rafah border crossing into an industrial hub and open the crossing around the clock, rendering the tunnels obsolete.
Wahid, who smuggles cement from Egypt to Gaza, told Felesteen that his supplies have decreased on the Egyptian side due to the heightened security presence in Sinai
On Sunday, Hamas leader Salah Bardawil declared his movement’s willingness to forgo tunnel smuggling in return for the opening of the Rafah crossing to goods and people.
“The tunnels are a popular emergency means to punch a hole in the criminal siege wall encircling the Gaza Strip and to assert Palestinian steadfastness and resistance in the face of occupation,” he said.
Following the terrorist attack on an Egyptian army outpost near Rafah August 5, Egypt sent heavy machinery to the border area with Gaza and began destroying smuggling tunnels.
But an unnamed security official acknowledged to Felesteen that a number of tunnels continue to operate “under complete secrecy,” adding that in a number of “extraordinary” cases Gaza residents even used them to enter Egypt in the past few days.
Israel allows all goods to enter Gaza through the Kerem Shalom border crossing except for building materials which they say could be used in the construction of weapons: cement, steel and gravel
Immediately after the Rafah attack and tunnel destruction, Gaza reported a sharp rise of up to 60% in the cost of building materials.