Amira Hass
January 1, 2009 - 1:00am

Rafah residents came to the realization on Tuesday that the air force has adopted a new method for destroying weapons smuggling tunnels in the town. On Monday, the military fired 10 missiles which are believed to have destroyed 10 tunnels. Palestinians say IAF drones fired seven missiles on Tuesday at the same number of tunnels.

The buzz of the drones and the shrieking missile fire interspersed with the exploding bombs were heard all day and all night. A total of 12 ordnances were counted on Tuesday, though 12 explosions were not heard.

Instead of an explosion, people felt the ground shake beneath their feet. Witnesses in Rafah say the IAF has deployed bombs or grenades with a delay mechanism. These weapons are aimed at the mouths of the tunnels where they explode after rolling a number of meters. Residents of the Egyptian side of Rafah reported damage to their homes as a result of the explosions. The Egyptians say they received prior warnings from the Israelis before the weapons were fired.

All the residents of the neighborhoods adjacent to the tunnels - whose population is said to be in the thousands - have left their homes in recent days. Most are staying with relatives. Some 200 are being housed in an UNRWA-managed school. The UN body which is responsible for providing aid to refugees said it believes the numbers will only grow.

Nonetheless, it appears that some Palestinians have continued work in the tunnels, as can be attested by a number of commodities that have suddenly emerged, like bananas. In contrast, fuel and diesel - which have been supplied by Egypt through underground pipes - have been cut off. Gas tanks have also ceased to arrive. And the shortage is critical.

Even prior to the aerial assault, Gazans asked themselves if the hermetic closure of the border crossings would remain in place if the tunnels would be blown up or shut down completely. That question is being answered by this operation.

Over the last year, the tunnels have turned into the known, quasi-official alternative to the border crossings. As Israel placed greater restrictions on the quantity and the nature of the goods being imported into the Gaza Strip, the smuggling of goods has increasingly flourished.

Hamas has publicly declared that its key diplomatic goal is to allow for the permanent opening of the Rafah crossing, but Egypt is opposing any reopening that is not subject to the terms of the border crossing agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The agreement has three clauses which are currently not being observed: the presence of Palestinian security personnel which carries out orders issued by President Mahmoud Abbas; the stationing of European observes in Rafah; and the opening of all trade crossings with Israel.

How ironic that Egypt has opened the Rafah crossing in a way that it has never opened it. Indeed, some 50 wounded Palestinians have crossed through it thus far. Some of them will remain in Egypt while most will receive treatment in Saudi Arabia. On Friday, some wounded Palestinians will leave for Jordan.


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