Gazans move quickly to rebuild bombed smuggling tunnels

Residents along the Egypt-Gaza border say that smugglers and tunnel owners are still inspecting the damage but that many of the tunnels still operate, though at reduced capacity, according to The Associated Press.

An Egyptian security official, speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, estimated that as of Sunday half the tunnels were not functioning.

The tunnels were developed as a way for Palestinians in Gaza to sidestep Egyptian and Israeli restrictions.

Though technically illegal, the tunnels have until recently been tolerated to varying degrees on the Egyptian side of the border.

“You can smuggle weapons, have people going in and out,” Benedetta Berti, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, recently told USA Today. “Security on the border and monitoring tunnels … has to be done.”

As of late 2010, around 1,000 tunnels were in operation along the border, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said in a report.

Hamas began a dramatic expansion off the tunneling network following Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the coastal territory, analysts say. The Islamist group, which Israel and the United States classify as a terrorist group, came to power in Gaza in 2007.

“Under the closure regime aimed at undermining Hamas’s control over the territory, the tunneling network has become Gaza’s primary economic engine and mode of rearmament for militants,” the CRS report said.

The Iran link
Many of the weapons smuggled into Gaza appear to have originated in Iran, experts say.

The Israeli military released footage earlier this month that it said showed that many of Hamas’ weapons, such as the Fajr-5 missiles, came from Iran.

The Shiite-led government in Iran has found common cause with the Sunni Hamas over a mutual foe, Israel, but experts agree that its influence is often indirect.

Still, according to a 2009 cable obtained by WikiLeaks, Israeli intelligence told a U.S. official that Israel’s air attacks on Gaza’s tunnels were “part of a bigger campaign to address the main issue of Iranian support to Hamas.”

For example, Israel said the Iranians had developed a version of the 122mm rocket specifically for Hamas: the weapon “came in four pieces that could fit through narrow tunnels and be reassembled in Gaza.”


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