Egypt tightens blockade of Gaza by building fish farms

Egyptian military constructs fish farms along its border with Gaza in attempt to obstruct remaining tunnels

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

In this Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015 photo, bulldozers and diggers work at the Egyptian side of the border with Gaza Strip.

In an attempt to shutdown the last remaining cross-border underground tunnels linking his country to neighboring Gaza, Egyptian military bulldozers have begun digging through sand in the area to create fish farms, the Associated Press reported on Monday.

Hamas, which currently controls the Gaza strip, has accused Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi of further isolating the blockaded Palestinian territory.

Hamas official Mushir al Masri said that the new project appears to be "a tightening of the grip of siege on Gaza," and that Egypt "should not slide into this cliff that agrees with the Israeli policies of siege."

These tunnels have been used to smuggle goods into Gaza that are necessities for survival  for the residents of the Strip, which has been under the blockade by Israel and Egyptian since Hamas came to power there in 2007.

Following a military coup conducted by Sisi which overthrew Egypt's first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi who was a key ally of Hamas, things took a turn for the worst for the group.

Since then, Egypt has been cracking down on the tunnels as part of an ongoing security campaign in the northern Sinai.

A bombing which killed more than 30 Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai region in October 2014 caused the Egyptian military to step up the campaign. It began building a buffer zone along the border with which involved the demolition of hundreds of homes and eviction of thousands of residents, as the Egyptian government accused Hamas of supporting the group that carried out the attack, an accusation which Hamas has strenuously denied.

The Egyptian army has destroyed 69 tunnels along the border with Gaza since March 28, putting the total number of tunnels destroyed since February at 285. Now Egyptian authorities have told AP that they are trying to destroy all of the remaining tunnels for good.

Digging started last week as part of constructing what officials said will be 18 fisheries along the 14 km border with Gaza 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 who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media.

Previous 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.

The new construction project has shown an immediate effect on Gaza's tunnel smuggling trade, with one smuggler, who spoke on condition of anonymity, saying that he had bought a shipment of motorbike parts for $6,000, but paid $10,000 to get it smuggled into Gaza because the activity has become very risky.

Before the works began two weeks ago, 10 packs of cigarettes smuggled through the tunnels from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula were sold in Gaza for around 110 shekels, which is about $28, however now the price has risen to 125 shekels, which is equal to nearly $32.

Several smugglers told AP that they will be 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 said in a statement that if the Egyptians fill the wells with sea water 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 Gaza side of the border to collapse.

"We appeal to our brothers in Egypt to stop the work that endangers the people of Gaza," Radwan said. "Gaza has enough problems: wars, siege and a difficult economic situation."

TRTWorld and agencies