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Middle east

Gaza under two blockades as Egypt destroys tunnels

© AFP

Video by Rami Abujamus , Gallagher Fenwick

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-10-29

Since Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s ouster, the Egyptian army has destroyed smuggling tunnels under the Gaza border, choking the Palestinian territory that is already hurting under the Israeli blockade.

Inside a dusty tunnel that once linked the Gaza Strip to Egypt, a makeshift conveyor belt bears a bag full of rubble and stones.

In the old days, Khaled, a tunnel worker in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, used to haul merchandise from Egypt into the blockaded Strip – providing a lifeline for the 1.5 million inhabitants of one of the world’s most densely populated regions.

The Rafah tunnels are controversial – the Israelis worry about weapons making their way into Gaza. But here in Rafah, Gaza’s second largest city, the tunnels were a critical source of income, employing most of the men of working age.

“There is not one tunnel working at the border between Gaza and Egypt. All we can do now is clean the tunnels by pulling out dirt,” sighs Khaled.

At the entrance to the tunnel, the neighbourhood is empty – one of the busiest parts of Gaza has turned into a ghost town.

In sharp contrast, the Rafah crossing point – the only official crossing between the Palestinian territory and Egypt – is a hive of activity.

Residents waiting in long lines inside the terminal building argue with local officials, brandishing their documents, yelling, cajoling and pleading in a desperate bid to make it into Egypt.

“We’re just waiting here, what else can we do? We have to travel. We all have important reasons for travelling. Every other day we pay for tickets, we come here and get sent back,” says Faiq Abdallah, a Gaza resident in the line. “It wasn’t always like this. All these problems started after Morsi was ousted.”

Gazans suffer fallout of Morsi’s ouster

Since the July 3 ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-led government, relations have soured between the Egyptian military and Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls Gaza.

Concerned about the increasing violence in Egypt's Sinai region, which the military has been unable to secure, the Egyptian army has destroyed hundreds of smuggling tunnels linking Rafah to northern Sinai. 

The new government in Cairo accuses Hamas, the Islamist party affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, of trying to destabilize Egypt.

But for the residents of Gaza, the Egyptian military’s tunnel closure is yet another sign of the Arab world’s failure to solve one of the world’s most intractable problems and Egypt’s duplicitous handling of the Gaza crisis. Palestinians in Gaza have long accused Egypt’s leaders of blaming Israel for their plight while failing to manage the crisis at their doorstep.

The Israeli blockade of Gaza has continued in some shape or form since the 1990s First Palestinian Intifada and has tightened since Hamas’ victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative election.

While the Israeli blockade has been the primary cause of Gaza’s impoverishment, Gazans now complain they are the victims of two different blockades.

At the Rafah crossing terminal, Fathiya Abu Shaweesh, an elderly Palestinian woman, helplessly watches the commotion as frustrated residents argue with officials in a desperate bid to get into Egypt.

“They’re afraid of us because of the problems in their country,” said Shaweesh referring to the recent political crisis in Egypt. “But we have nothing to do with it.”

 

Date created : 2013-10-29

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