Harriet Sherwood
The Guardian
February 8, 2011 - 1:00am

Gaza is facing acute fuel shortages as a result of the unrest in neighbouring Egypt, which has caused supplies of petrol and diesel smuggled through tunnels to almost dry up.

Although some fuel is imported into the Gaza Strip from Israel, it costs three times as much as diesel and petrol smuggled in from Egypt. Gazans depend on diesel for generators during power cuts of about eight hours a day.

Long queues of cars, motorcycles and people on foot carrying containers have formed at gas stations. Smuggled construction materials and Egyptian cigarettes are also in short supply.

"For the past week I have not brought any fuel in," said Abu Jandal, a tunnel operator in Rafah, a few metres from the border. "It has created huge demand in Gaza."

Bridges and roads leading to the border had been closed, he said, although early this week the supply route reopened. A dealer on the phone from Egypt told him clashes in the Sinai between security forces and Bedouin Arabs, the Gazans' main smuggling partners, were contributing to the difficulties.

"It is no matter if my business is affected," he said. "We are hoping the Egyptian people will be liberated from injustice."

Abu Youssef (none of the tunnel operators were willing to give their real names) said his business of importing ceramics for use in construction had been suspended. "Now we are smuggling scrap metal out of Gaza into Egypt."

The price of a 1 ton bag of smuggled cement had increased from 550 shekels (£92) to 800 since the unrest began, said Atala. In his view, the Egyptian protesters were "crazy".

"They don't appreciate the benefit of Mubarak. Who you know is better than who you don't know. We had change here, and we got shit as a result."

Many of the tents housing the tunnel shafts were deserted on Monday, and the Egyptian side of the border was unusually quiet with no visible sign of the Egyptian army.

The border crossing, normally open five days a week to allow the exit of limited numbers of Gazans, mostly students and those requiring urgent medical treatment, has been closed for more than a week.

Hamas officials are patrolling the area to prevent people exiting the Gaza Strip through the tunnels. The Guardian's car was waved through after inspection. "Make sure that all three of you come back," the official said.


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