Gaza underground tunnel business dries up 2009-07-06 19:47:00   Print

    by Saud Abu Ramadan

    GAZA, July 6 (Xinhua) -- It was an unusual quiet night near the border zone between southern Gaza town of Rafah and Egypt.

    Residents there say they could hear less noise of pulling goods, workers' shouts, or trucks and cars carrying smuggled goods.

    Now they can have relative tranquility in the area.

    Samir Zanoon, a 45-year-old Rafah resident, revealed that many underground tunnels that were dug under the borderline and used for smuggling goods from Egypt to Gaza, were completely deserted after the Egyptian security forces sealed off the tunnel carters at the Egyptian side of the borders.

    He said that during the 22-day Israeli air, sea and ground military offensive on Gaza that ended on January 18, the Israeli air forces had bombarded and destroyed around 60 percent of the tunnels that were dug under Gaza-Egypt's borders over the past two years.

    Israel says the Palestinians are using the tunnels, not only to defy more than two years of Israeli blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip, but also to smuggle weapons and rockets used to carry out armed attacks against the Jewish state.

    "Only a few numbers of tunnels are still operating now to smuggle fuels, electric generators, cigarettes and other kinds of snacks and soda drinks from Egypt into the Gaza Strip," said Zanoon, adding "the business has really declined."

    After Hamas seized control of Gaza in mid June 2007, Israel closed down all commercial crossings between Israel and the impoverished enclave. It only allowed humanitarian aids and limited amounts of fuels, and banned more than 80 kinds of goods and raw materials for construction and industry.

    Unemployed Palestinians, who didn't find a job on the ground, preferred to work under the ground. Although working in tunnels is highly risky and dangerous, many of those workers still sacrificed their lives to earn a living, some died or got lost while working in tunnels which can easily collapse.

    Numerous smugglers and tunnel owners are forced to stop working in the tunnels, some of whom reduced their business as much as possible. Consequently, many tunnel workers were discharged and lost their sole income to feed their families.

    The Gaza-based human rights group of al-Damir said that since the beginning of 2008, 115 Palestinians were killed in the tunnels, whom were killed either by tunnel collapse and electric shocks, or suffocation due to lack of oxygen.

    Ali Khatab, a 21-year-old tunnel worker, said that when the tunnel owners got disappointed by the ongoing economic crisis imposed on Gaza due to the Israeli blockade, they started to find new tricks to get back to work in the tunnel business.

    "They try their best to overcome the recent tight Egyptian security measures either by increasing the length of the tunnel, and thus be faraway, or hiding goods until reaching the tunnel carter," said Khatab.

    He said "despite of all these attempts, smuggling became very difficult currently in comparison with the post-Israeli war months."

    Omer Sha'ban, a Gaza economist, told Xinhua that Gaza tunnel business had flourished since the beginning of the Israeli blockade two years ago, "but after Israel launched its war on Gazain January, the business had declined."

    "Tunnel smuggling was a smart illegal way to break the Israeli blockade and rescue the population, but it can never be a permanent solution to the severe economical crisis caused by the blockade. The only solution I believe is to end the blockade and reopen the crossings," said Sha'ban.

    Mohammed Shurrab, who lives in the nearby city of Khan Younis, said that the tunnel he used to work in was bombarded during the last Israeli war. However, its owner rebuilt it, but unfortunately, the Egyptians soon discovered the tunnel and destroyed it.

    He added that not only him, but many of his friends had become jobless now.

    "We tried to find other alternative tunnels to work in, but it is very restricted now. The only remained running tunnels are devoted for cements, fuels and some food and medical products."

    Another remarkable sign that shows the tunnel business has declined is the scene at the well-known "Al Najmeh", the most popular market in the city of Rafah. The market's business has also dried up due to the notable economic deterioration of tunnel business. There is no longer as many goods as before.

    "If Israel and Egypt agreed to close the tunnels that help us to survive, they should immediately agree together with President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas to permanently reopen Gaza commercial crossings, otherwise, Gaza would witness another serious crisis," said Abu el-Bara'a, a tunnel owner in Rafah.

Special Report: Palestine-Israel Conflicts         

Editor: Xiong Tong
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