Egypt aborts gas smuggling to Gaza
Ahram Online , Sunday 24 Feb 2013
Egypt-Hamas ties tested over tunnels into Gaza Strip

Egyptian border guards have blocked an attempt to smuggle around 20,000 litres of diesel fuel and gasoline via tunnels under the border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported Saturday.

Last week, Egyptian and Palestinian officials told AFP that Egyptian forces flooded the tunnels in an attempt to shut them down.

Dozens of tunnels have been destroyed since August following the killing of 16 Egyptian soldiers in a militant attack near the Gaza border.

Cairo said some of the gunmen had crossed into Egypt via the tunnels, a charge denied by Palestinians, and ordered an immediate crackdown. Weapons are also smuggled underground and at least 10,000 Palestinians are believed to work in the tunnel business.

The work is dangerous. Six Palestinians died in January in tunnel collapses, raising the death toll among workers to 233 since 2007, according to human rights groups in Gaza. The figure includes 20 people killed in Israeli air attacks on the tunnel network.

According to Reuters, tunnel owners pay between $10,000 and $12,000 to families of workers killed on the job. The compensation is set by the Hamas government that supervises work at the border.

Hamas expresses anger

The flooding of the Egypt-Gaza tunnel network saw tensions sharply rise between Hamas in Gaza and their ideological partners, the Muslim Brotherhood, currently ruling Egypt.

Hamas released a statement last week condemning the Egyptian government for flooding to tunnels connecting Egypt to Gaza.

During a conference in Gaza, senior Hamas official Khalil El-Haya said that people in Gaza consider Egypt’s new policy of shutting down the tunnels as a “renewal” of Israel’s blockade imposed on Gaza since 2006.

The network of tunnels is a vital lifeline for Gaza, bringing in an estimated 30 per cent of all goods — including construction materials and fuel — that reach the enclave and circumventing a blockade imposed by Israel for more than seven years.

Israel and then President Hosni Mubarak restricted the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza since Hamas gained power six years ago.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip celebrated as Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi won Egypt’s presidential elections in June 2012, believing the rise of the group from which Hamas was itself formed would help them. Now, the tunnels crisis is a key source of concern for Gazans.

On 21 November, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a Cairo-brokered ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza-based resistance movement at a press conference in Cairo.

Days earlier, Israel had launched a series of destructive attacks against buildings and media centres across the besieged coastal enclave, including Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's office, killing more than 162 Palestinians in a week of non-stop airstrikes.

Five Israelis died as a result of rockets fired by Hamas fighters into Israel.