The Hamas government in Gaza on Sunday resumed smuggling activity in tunnels running beneath the Egyptian border following a three-day closure due to the hazard of tunnel collapses caused by stormy weather.
Hamas’s Interior Ministry set up a commission tasked with examining the safety conditions in dozens of underground passageways leading from Gaza to Egypt following the death of five citizens in tunnel collapses in January, Hamas’s Al-Resalah daily reported on Sunday.
Along with weaponry for use against Israel, Gaza’s estimated 1,200 smuggling tunnels are mainly used for importing building materials banned by Israel, as well as fuel, cooking gas and cheap consumer products. In late 2012, the Egyptian army sealed the entrance to hundreds of tunnels on the Egyptian side, following a terrorist attack against Egyptian soldiers perpetrated by Gazan terrorists who reportedly used tunnels to enter Egypt.
Abdul Aziz Attar, head of Gaza’s Civil Defense department, told the newspaper that tunnels used for the transfer of humans and those with cooking gas pipelines are now being checked for safety.
A member of Gaza’s Civil Defense who refused to reveal his name told The Times of Israel that the tunnels had not completely resumed their function on Sunday, adding that for that past two months traffic through the tunnels has diminished “due to weather and other reasons.”
Last month, the Gaza-based human rights organization Al-Mezan called on the Hamas government to reexamine the use of smuggling tunnels altogether due to the high death toll. According to the organization, 232 local residents have been killed in tunnel-related activity since 2006 — including nine children — and 597 others have been injured.
“The Mezan Center for Human Rights… renews its previous call on the government to take all necessary steps to protect the workers in the tunnels and prevent more victims,” the organization wrote in a press statement January 17, claiming that the tunnels should be shut considering “their diminishing role in contributing to the economy of the Gaza Strip and fulfilling citizens’ needs.”
But on Sunday, Al-Resalah reported, dozens of workers returned to the border area after the government allowed the resumption of work in the tunnels following a three-day closure. The newspaper’s correspondent reported seeing “huge trucks carrying building materials leaving the border area headed for the interior of the Gaza Strip.”