14 Gazans rescued after Egypt floods smuggling tunnel
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14 Gazans rescued after Egypt floods smuggling tunnel

Contact with the men had been lost after the tunnel collapse early Tuesday

Lee Gancman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Palestinians inspect the damage after Egyptian forces flooded smuggling tunnels dug beneath the Gaza-Egypt border, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 18, 2015. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)
Palestinians inspect the damage after Egyptian forces flooded smuggling tunnels dug beneath the Gaza-Egypt border, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 18, 2015. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

Fourteen Gazans were reportedly rescued Tuesday morning after the smuggling tunnel they were working in collapsed following intentional flooding by Egypt.

The tunnel, located in the area of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, was being used to smuggle goods across the border early Tuesday when it was flooded and collapsed, sparking an hours-long rescue effort by emergency crews.

According to Palestinian media reports, the 14 were trapped and feared dead but managed to reach an unflooded section of the tunnel.

They were then pulled to the surface by rescue crews from Gaza’s civil defense agency.

Egypt has embarked on a massive campaign aimed at stemming cross-border smuggling between Gaza and Sinai, where they are fighting an insurgency by Islamist militants.

The operation has included flooding hundreds of tunnels that once dotted the border region, and building a 500-meter-wide buffer zone being filled with seawater.

The method used by the Egyptian military to destroy the tunnels involves piping Mediterranean water into the buffer zone between the two territories and channeling it underground. This is intended to flood a widespread area and cause the collapse of tunnels dug in the sandy soil of the area.

Egypt announced in August that it ultimately intended to turn the area into a giant military-run fish farm that would render the area completely impossible to tunnel under.

Cross-border tunnels, many of which are highly sophisticated and kilometers long, are viewed upon as a lifeline for many Gazans who use them to smuggle people and goods in and out of the blockaded territory.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has been subject to a blockade by both Egypt and Israel, designed in part to prevent the terror group from importing arms and building new tunnels reinforced with concrete.

Hamas has also built dozens of tunnels into Israel, many of which were used to carry out attacks on troops during the 2014 war. The IDF said it destroyed over 30 tunnels during Operation Protective Edge, but officials have expressed fear the terror group is seeking to rebuild the infrastructure.

Egypt has also been concerned by cooperation between Hamas and Sinai-based terror groups, and the passage of Hamas terrorists via the tunnels to training camps in Iran and elsewhere in the region.

On Monday, the Egyptian army announced it had discovered and destroyed 20 cross-border smuggling tunnels in November.

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