In an attempt to shutdown the last remaining cross-border tunnels linking Egypt to neighbouring Gaza, the Egyptian military have begun flooding the tunnels to create fish farms, security officials and witnesses told reporters on Friday.
Digging started in late August as part of constructing what officials said will be 18 fisheries along the 14 km border with Gaza for growing mullet fish and shrimps. The other objective of the development is to block the digging of any future underground tunnels, according to Egyptian military officials.
The tunnels, which have been used to transfer goods into Gaza that are necessities for survival for the residents of the coastal enclave, have been targeted by Israel and Egypt since Hamas came to power there in 2007.
Although a blockade enforced on the Palestinian territory was briefly lifted on the Egyptian side during the administration of Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi, a coup in July 2013 orchestrated by his current President Abdel Fattah el Sisi, who was then an army general, resulted in the closure of the Egyptian-Gaza border.
The Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza has only been open for a total of 15 days this year, hurting the 1.8 million Palestinians living in the crowded 360 square kilometer enclave who are struggling to survive.
Since the coup, Egypt has been cracking down on the tunnels as part of an ongoing security campaign in the northern Sinai, where the military has been battling rebel groups they claim are backed by Hamas.
Hamas, a faction that formed as an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood movement to which deposed president Morsi belonged, has denied supporting militants against the Egyptian army, as well as accusations of meddling in Egypt’s state affairs during Morsi’s year-long reign.
The Egyptian army has destroyed 69 tunnels along the border with Gaza since March 28, putting the total number of tunnels destroyed there since February at 285. A total of 1,400 tunnels have been destroyed since the beginning of 2014.
There are only an estimated 20 tunnels still actively being used along the border, providing Gazans who suffer from 43 percent unemployment and a 39 percent poverty rate with their only means of livelihood.
Previously, plans to dig a small canal were abandoned after thorough examination showed that the water would eventually flood the border completely, according to statements from officials.
Several smugglers told the Associated Press news agency that they are now installing water pumps with 200-meter-long hoses to extract the water out of the tunnels in case of flooding.
Hamas-appointed Rafah mayor Subhi Radwan previously warned that if the Egyptians fill the wells with seawater this could damage the aquifer providing Gaza with its drinking water, an accusation in which Egyptian military officials have dismissed.
Radwan also added that the fisheries could cause homes located on the Gazan side of the border to collapse.