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Gaza suffers worsening shortage as Egypt clamps down smuggling tunnels

English.news.cn   2013-09-04 21:50:20            

GAZA, Sept. 4 (Xinhua) -- Officials in the Gaza Strip warned Wednesday of a worsening crisis and shortage in basic goods, owing to the turmoil in neighboring Egypt.

Fuel supplies, smuggled from Egypt to the Palestinian coastal enclave, have dropped significantly due to Egyptian military's clampdown on the underground tunnels beneath Gaza's southern border with Egypt, said the officials.

The Egyptian operations along the borders were part of a campaign to restore order in the restive Sinai Peninsula, but Hamas, the Islamic movement controlling Gaza since 2007, considered it as measures to punish Gaza but have nothing to do with security, according to a statement by Hamas this week.

Hamas is an offshoot of Muslim Brotherhood, to which ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi is affiliated. Since Egyptian military overthrew Morsi on July 3, Hamas' relationship with Egypt 's new, military-backed government deteriorated.

The officials and smugglers said that no petrol has entered Gaza for three days, creating scenes of crisis, as hundreds of cars lined up outside gas stations and electricity blackout hours increased.

The crisis brings back memories of Israeli siege that was imposed on Gaza to isolate Hamas between 2007 and 2010. Since 2010, Israel has relaxed the restrictions to ease an international outcry against its lethal raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish aid flotilla.

Though Israel allows fuel through overland crossing to Gaza, people here rely heavily on half-priced petrol smuggled from Egypt.

Since the morning, most of Gaza's petrol stations have no diesel or gasoline as the cars waited. "The storage of fuel in Gaza will be zero in the coming days if the current situation continues," warned Mohammed Al-Abadlla, spokesperson for Gaza oil companies union.

The internal disputes between Hamas and the West Bank-based Palestinian National Authority (PNA) also contributes to the crisis. Al-Abadlla said fuel supplies from Israel were halted because the PNA's petrol agency in the West Bank issued a new order banning Gaza stations from receiving Israeli fuel before they pay in advance.

Smugglers said that 90 percent of the tunnels were stopped because of the Egyptian crackdown. Witnesses and Hamas also talk of Egyptian leveling on the other side of the borders to create a buffer zone.

The alarm bells were rung by municipality officials, who said the power outages affect water and sewage treatment facilities.

Prices of cigarettes and construction materials, commodities that only come through tunnels, were also on the rise in recent hours.

"The situation is very bad and is going to the worst," said Maher Al-Taba of Gaza's chamber of commerce. "The tunnels are still Gaza's lifeline and their closure without an alternative worsens the conditions here."

Factories and other businesses have reduced their operational hours because of the outages, or lack of fuel or raw materials they use.

Hamas' Ministry of Economy say that nearly 6,000 tons of cement, 4,000 tons of iron bars and 5,000 tons of gravels used to enter Gaza on daily basis via the tunnels. Israel still bars construction materials from being delivered to Gaza through its crossing points, except for some projects by international organizations. The ministry says the tunnels provide Gaza with 40 percent of all its needs.

The ministry said in a recent report that most of the main items come from the tunnels, not through the Israeli commercial crossing point at Kerem Shalom. The report shows the tunnels were the source of 65 percent of flour, 98 percent of sugar, 51 percent of rice and 100 percent of fresh fish in the first quarter of 2013.

The report said that the loses of Gaza's economy due to the clampdown on tunnels were 230 million U.S. dollars a month.

"We are managing the crisis," said Ihab Al-Ghussein, spokesperson for Hamas' government. "However, the continuation of the current situation will lead to an overwhelming crisis."

The government resorted to some measures to cope with the crisis, including restricting the use of government and public vehicles to necessary or emergency matters and reducing working hours of generators in government offices.

Sources also told Xinhua that Hamas has formed a committee of ministers who meet on daily basis to follow up the crisis and the effects of the Egyptian clampdown.

Editor: Hou Qiang
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