Egypt’s army destroyed 31 Gaza tunnels in October

Egyptian army demolished entry points of 31 cross-border tunnels between Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip last month

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A Palestinian worker ascends on a rope to leave a smuggling tunnel, that was flooded by Egyptian security forces, beneath the border between Egypt and southern Gaza Strip November 2, 2015

The Egyptian army announced on Sunday that it had demolished the entry points of 31 cross-border tunnels throughout October in an attempt to continue its crackdown on passages linking Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula with the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip.

Army spokesman Brigadier General Mohamed Samir said in a statement that military forces discovered 31 tunnel openings in the Egyptian city of Rafah, all of which were destroyed.

The tunnels that pass under the Egyptian border have served as a lifeline to the outside world for Gaza's 1.8 million inhabitants since Israel placed a blockade on the coastal enclave in 2007, a blockade which has seen support by the current Egyptian government.

In September, the United Nations (UN) warned that Gaza could become uninhabitable for residents in the next five years.

"The social, health and security-related ramifications of the high population density and overcrowding are among the factors that may render Gaza unlivable by 2020," the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) wrote in its annual report.

The report estimated that the three Israeli military operations on the strip, including last year's devastating war that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians and displaced half a million more, had caused economic losses almost three times the size of Gaza's local gross domestic product.

Nearly 72 percent of all households in Gaza are struggling with lack of food, and the number of Palestinian refugees who rely entirely on food distribution from the UN agency has escalated from 72,000 in 2000 to 868,000 since last May.

A Palestinian worker is lowered on a rope into a smuggling tunnel, that was flooded by Egyptian security forces, beneath the border between Egypt and southern Gaza Strip November 2, 2015.

Therefore since the 2007 blockade, the Palestinian Gaza Strip had relied on the network of passages for years to smuggle desperately-needed supplies into the strip, including food, fuel and medicine.

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.

In an attempt to shutdown the last remaining cross-border underground tunnels linking Egypt to neighboring Gaza, Egyptian military bulldozers in September began digging through sand in the area to create fish farms, flooding the tunnel network with water from the Mediterranean Sea.

Slain fisherman

Last Thursday, a Palestinian fisherman - Firas Mekdad - was shot dead by Egyptian troops off the coast of the southern Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian health officials.

Ismail Haniyah, deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, held the Egyptian authorities "fully responsible" for the death of Mekdad.

"This incident… is a blatant assault on the values, history and longstanding ties of brotherhood [between the Palestinians and] the Egyptian people," Haniyeh told reporters on Saturday.

"The Egyptian authorities hold full responsibility for this unacceptable act," he added.

Palestinians carry the body of 18-year-old fisherman Feras Meqdad during his funeral in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip November 6, 2015.

Haniyah also urged the Egyptian government to not further contribute to the ongoing suffering of the residents of the Gaza Strip by sealing the Egypt-Gaza Rafah border crossing, flooding the network of cross-border tunnels, and opening fire on Gazan fishermen.

He also emphasised Hamas’ commitment - which since 2007 has governed the Strip since 2007 - to ensuring Egypt’s national security.

"It’s true our anger is great; but this does not change our target," he asserted. "Our guns remain pointed at the Israeli enemy."

The Palestinian Fishermen’s Association, has demanded from the Egyptian authorities to open an urgent investigation into the fisherman’s death, who, it asserted, had merely been "doing his job as a fisherman in Palestinian waters" at the time of his killing.

The Egyptian military is known to arrest or shoot at anyone who approaches Egypt’s maritime borders, according to the fishermen's association.

The Egyptian authorities have refrained from providing any comments concerning the death of Mekdad.

TRTWorld and agencies