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Middle east

The race to rebuild Rafah's tunnels is on

Video by Christopher MOORE

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-01-24

FRANCE 24 correspondents Sophie Claudet and Willy Bracciano spoke to Palestinians in Rafah, where they saw people busy repairing secret tunnels that burrow under the border to Egypt. The Israeli bombings had left the tunnels in ruins.

The southern Gaza Strip has felt the effects of an Israeli blockade for years. Today, young Palestinians in this area can be seen busy repairing damaged tunnels that burrow under the border to Egypt. The passageways were one of Israel’s main targets in its recent offensive.

It accuses Palestinians of smuggling arms through these tunnels, but many say that they are also used for transporting basic goods.

Tunnel builders deny any wrongdoing, as one of them, preferring to remain anonymous, explains: “We don't smuggle weapons, the arms that are here are the ones that belonged to the Palestinian authority. We don't bring in heavy weapons, they are made here. We only bring in basic goods. The border is closed, so how else could we get food?”

The tunnels are a good business for ‘smugglers’. One of them, who also prefers to remain anonymous, explained that goods ‘imported’ from Egypt through the tunnels were sold in Gaza at a price worth three or four times the original cost.

One of the inhabitants of the border zone, whose house was destroyed during the bombardments, was against rebuilding the tunnels. “No, they won't start using them again, we'll stop them from doing that. Otherwise where will we live? We'll stop them, we'll send the elders to negotiate with them, to tell them we don't want the tunnels. We've been patient despite hunger, the blockade and the bombings, but this isn't possible, it's against God's will."

The ceasefire is a fragile arrangement, and Israel has warned it will start bombarding Rafah again if it feels that Hamas is using the tunnels to re-arm.

Despite the threat, hundreds of Palestinians have begun working on rebuilding the tunnels since the ceasefire began. The work is dangerous and four builders have been severely injured in the last two days when passageways collapsed on top of them, reported Egyptian sources.

Date created : 2009-01-23

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