Hamas, the terror organization that runs the Gaza Strip, is being hit hard by Egyptian efforts to stifle the vast network of illegal smuggling tunnels that run from Sinai to the small coastal territory.
Ala Al-Rafati, the Hamas economy minister, told Reuters the tunnel closures since June had cost Gaza around $230 million – around a tenth of the GDP of the territory.
“The continued restrictions threaten to bring construction projects to a complete halt,” he said, referring to cement that has been brought through the tunnels, along with everything from foodstuffs to electrical appliances to the occasional car.
Cairo began its crackdown on the tunnels after a spike in violence in Sinai a year ago, highlighted by the murder of 16 of its soldiers at the hands of jihadi militants. Egypt said some of the gunmen had slipped into Sinai from nearby Gaza, an accusation denied by Hamas.
The tunnel crackdown has gathered pace since the removal of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi from power earlier this month.
According to Reuters, Cairo’s troops have destroyed many of the smuggling tunnels in recent weeks that ran under the Egypt-Gaza border and which had provided Gaza with commercial goods as well as weaponry.
“There is a difficult humanitarian situation in Gaza because of the Egyptian measures on the borders,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters. “Most of the tunnels were demolished and the few that remain open are paralyzed.”
Ehud Yaari, a Middle East analyst from Israel who has studied the Sinai situation in depth, said that while Egypt had stemmed the flow of weapons into Gaza, it was permitting a measured flow of commercial goods to prevent massive shortfalls.
“When the Egyptians felt there was a shortage of fuel in Gaza, they allowed certain tunnels that carry fuel in to operate for a few days. They are very sensitive to the situation inside Gaza,” Yaari said in the Reuters report.
Abu Zuhri said Hamas’s first concern was providing for the Palestinians’ day-to-day needs.
“We are capable of creating alternatives to contend with any crisis,” he said. “The ongoing closure of tunnels without making an alternative is practically strangling Gaza.”