Jerusalem – The Middle East Newsline has confirmed that Hamas has used the six-month, cease-fire period, which began June 19, to operate at least 400 smuggling tunnels from Egypt into Gaza, with Israeli constrained from taking any action, due to the constraints of the cease-fire.
Palestinian sources told the Middle East Newsline that the Hamas regime controls and operates at least 90 percent of the estimated 450 tunnels that link the Gaza Strip with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
The Hamas Interior Ministry has assumed control over the tunnels, establishing a Tunnel Administration, which is responsible for policing the tunnels as well as ensuring that fees are paid for every shipment.
In most cases, Hamas has allowed Palestinian clans in the Rafah area to continue smuggling activity. The sources said Hamas provides the families with permitted items for smuggling as well as goods sought by the regime, particularly weapons, explosives, medicine and cattle.
Estimates on the number of tunnels have ranged from 400 to 800, which cost between $60,000 and $150,000 each, depending on their length.
Tunnel operators said about 25,000 people have been employed in the tunnel smuggling industry.
“The government films tunnel activity and posts monitors, who work eight-hour shifts,” a Palestinian source told the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. “Should smugglers cheat, they have to pay a penalty or get shot in the legs. Alternatively, Hamas might inform Egypt about the tunnel, which then would likely be destroyed.”
In a recent report, ICG said Palestinians who own land near the Egyptian border have become wealthy. The independent think tank said those Palestinian landowners have been taking over the distribution network of smuggled goods in cooperation with Hamas.
David Bedein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is at www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com
©The Bulletin 2008