Feb 18 2013
(Reuters) – Egypt’s campaign to shut down smuggling tunnels running under its border into the Gaza Strip threatens to throw thousands of Palestinians out of work in the Hamas-run enclave.
The network of tunnels has been a vital lifeline for Gaza, bringing in an estimated 30 percent of all goods that reach the enclave and circumventing a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt for more than seven years.
Weapons are also smuggled underground and at least 10,000 Palestinians are believed to work in the tunnel business.
Abu Bilal, who said he has moved cement and gravel through the tunnels for the past four years, said Egypt has flooded dozens of them in the past two weeks. Every time workers pumped water out, he said, Egyptian security forces reopened the taps.
“Many of my colleagues and I are afraid we may lose our jobs if they continue to do so,” said Abu Bilal, 30.
Earning 50 shekels ($14) a day, Abu Bilal said because of flooding he has worked only two days over the past two weeks.
“We have a double fear: we are afraid of dying in a sudden flood and we are afraid of starving if we lose our jobs because of the Egyptian crackdown,” he said.
If he lost his job in tunnels, his hopes of finding another job in Gaza Strip, where economists put the unemployment rate at more than 30 percent, would be slim.
Citing security concerns for the crackdown, Cairo said some of the gunmen who killed 16 Egyptian soldiers near the Gaza border fence in August had crossed into Egypt via the tunnels, an allegation denied by Palestinians.