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Wednesday, January 13, 2010     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Construction of Egypt's security wall causes collapse of smuggling tunnels

GAZA CITY - Egypt's construction of an underground steel barrier has resulted in the collapse of Palestinian smuggling tunnels along the border with the Gaza Strip.


Palestinian sources said dozens of smuggling tunnels that span the divided city of Rafah have been damaged by the initial stage of construction of a 10-kilometer underground steel barrier along the Egypt-Gaza border. They said tunnels as deep as 30 meters were collapsing on a nearly daily basis.

"The worst hit have been the tunnels just near the Rafah border terminal," a Palestinian source said.

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The sources said the steel barrier has not affected most of the 1,500 tunnels that connect Egypt's Sinai Peninsula with the Gaza Strip. But they said the tremors from the heavy drilling and construction were causing tunnel collapses as well as killing operators.

"The tunnels that are deep won't be affected, but most of the tunnels are within 40 meters of the surface and they could collapse as construction proceeds," the source said.

The sources said the Egyptian project, conducted in cooperation with France and the United States, has alarmed the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip. They said Hamas - which charges an annual $2,500 for the right to operate a tunnel - has appealed to Egypt to suspend its project.

Egypt, amid sniper attacks from the Gaza Strip, has reinforced the border with several hundred troops to protect construction crews. On Jan. 6, an Egyptian officer was killed and more than a dozen others were injured in a gun battle along the border with the Gaza Strip that stemmed from a Hamas-organized protest of the barrier.

"We did not expect them [Egypt] to impose a siege and be punished by a state considered to be our brother," Hamas spokesman Hamad Al Rouqub said.

Hamas has also sponsored tunnel construction along the border with Israel. On Jan. 1, the Israeli Air Force attacked two tunnels leading from the northern and southern Gaza Strip toward Israel.

"The tunnels originated from a distance of about one kilometer from the Gaza security fence, and were intended to infiltrate Israel and execute a terror attack against Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers," the military said on Jan. 1.

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