by Saud Abu Ramadan
GAZA, Sept. 8 (Xinhua) -- Egypt's recent crackdown on smuggling tunnels has worsened the shortage of fuels and other essential materials in the Gaza Strip, as the Palestinian coastal enclave has already been under tight Israeli blockade for six years.
Some analysts suspected Egypt's moves were meant to retaliate on Hamas, the ruling force in Gaza ,for its support of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, cautioning that Cairo should " differentiate" between Hamas and ordinary residents.
More than 90 percent of the smuggling tunnels, which had been used for smuggling fuels and construction raw materials from Egypt to Gaza, became inoperative due to Egyptian army's crackdown, according to Hamas officials.
Hamas Economic Minister Alla al-Deen al-Rafati earlier said that the losses of closing such tunnels since the ouster of Morsi on July 3 had reached 260 million U.S. dollars, which severely affected Gaza's economy.
Economists based in Gaza estimated that over the past six years, the business of smuggling tunnels represented around 40 percent of the Hamas government's annual budget.
Right after Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, Israel imposed a tight blockade on the territory and considered it a hostile entity. In return, the Palestinians dug thousands of tunnels underneath the borders with Egypt to obtain their basic needs of foods and fuels.
Hamas leaders in Gaza stressed that they understand the security needs of Egypt, but urged Egypt to reopen Rafah border crossing permanently and open a new trade zone between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
Ihab al-Ghusein, spokesman of Hamas government in Gaza, warned that the ongoing security measures of Egypt had caused a severe shortage in the basic needs of fuels and construction raw materials.
Mustafa al-Sawaf, political analyst and expert in Hamas affairs, told Xinhua that "Certainly there will be a humanitarian crisis in Gaza once the Egyptian measures on the Gaza Strip are tightened and the Egyptian army keeps closing and destroying the tunnels."
Over the past two months, Egyptian security forces banned the pumping of less expensive Egyptian gasoline and diesel into Gaza; while Israel only allowed limited quantities of Israeli fuels into Gaza, the prices of which were much higher.
In the main streets of Gaza, long queues of vehicles waited outside dozens of gas stations to buy fuel, while construction projects almost stopped due to severe shortage of raw materials, such as cements and gravel.
Maher al-Taba', director of Gaza Chamber of commerce, warned that the destruction of tunnels in addition to the Israeli blockade "would lead to a critical humanitarian crisis, unless Egypt eases its measures and Israel ends its blockade."