Four Palestinians have been found dead in a smuggling tunnel linking the Gaza Strip to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, local officials said Sunday, accusing the Egyptian military of flooding it.
The four men aged 22 to 45 “were found dead after the tunnel they were working in was flooded nine days ago by the Egyptian army,” local authorities in the Gazan city of Rafah near Egypt’s border said in a statement.
Earlier Sunday it had been reported that two bodies had been found, while another two Palestinian men remained missing.
The report did not say if the men belonged to the terrorist group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, or to one of the numerous other armed factions that operate there.
Egypt has not confirmed the information, though it has destroyed hundreds of tunnels in the area, alleging they are used to transport arms and militants.
Gazans use such tunnels to smuggle goods and weapons into the Palestinian enclave that has been under Israeli and Egyptian blockade for a decade following Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip and its use of the area as a launchpad for attacks on Israel.
Israel says the blockade is required to keep arms and materials that can be used for war-making out of the hands of Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza.
The border between Egypt and Gaza has also remained largely closed since the 2013 overthrow of Egyptian Islamist president Mohammed Morsi over Egyptian claims that Hamas has supported the Muslim Brotherhood and the Sinai Province, the local branch of the Islamic State.
While the tunnels into Egypt have been used primarily for smuggling, Gazan tunnels into Israel have been used for attacks, particularly in the 2014 war between the two sides.
In recent months, at least 20 Gazans have died in tunnel collapses, most of them reportedly members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, and there have been dozen of such cases since the beginning of the year.