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Tuesday, November 3, 2009     GET REAL

Gaza tunnel commerce boom: 'We can get anything for anybody ... any time'

GAZA CITY — The huge increase in approved smuggling tunnels between the Gaza Strip and neighboring Egypt is even placing luxury cars within reach of Gazan consumers.   

Palestinian sources said tunnels that span the Gaza Strip to Egypt's Sinai Peninsula have more than doubled in 2009, Middle East Newsline reported. They cited the Israeli and Egyptian closure of their borders as well as increasing Gazan demand for consumer goods.

"We can get anything for anybody at almost any time," a Palestinian involved in the tunnel industry said.

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The sources said the Hamas regime approved the sharp increase of tunnels in wake of the war with Israel in January 2009. They said the number of tunnels skyrocketed from about 700 to 1,500 over the last eight months.

"Hamas directly controls about 100 tunnels and this supplies the government and security forces," the Palestinian said. "Whenever they need something fast, they turn to private tunnel operators."

In August, tunnel operators began smuggling luxury cars from Egypt to the Gaza Strip. Over the last two months, the sources said, about 100 late model cars were dismantled in Egypt, transported through the tunnels in parts and reassembled in the Gaza Strip. The price per car was reported at $20,000.

The sources said the tunnels marked the largest industry in the Gaza Strip. They said about 30,000 people were employed in the smuggling industry, with diggers earning about $30 day.

Egypt and Israel have sought to block the Palestinian tunnel industry. But the sources said the number of tunnels discovered and destroyed marked a less than one percent of the smuggling network.

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