Ma'an News Agency
September 21, 2012 - 12:00am

GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Basic goods are becoming more scarce in the Gaza Strip after Egypt moved to close dozens of tunnels under their border, Gaza's ministry of national economy said Friday.

Monthly imports of basic foodstuffs, including flour, rice, sugar, and wheat, have fallen 31 percent since the tunnel closures, the ministry said in a statement.

Construction materials brought through the tunnels have declined by 45 percent, it added.

By contrast, import of goods through Israel's Kerem Shalom crossing had increased by 22 percent, the ministry said, while noting that the terminal's 300 trucks-per-day entry limit was not sufficient for Gaza's needs.

An Israeli official said Thursday that military authorities had approved a host of measures to facilitate the entry and exit of goods at Gaza crossings, as long as border violence remained under control.

The Gaza Strip is under an Israeli land and sea blockade, and its sole border crossing not controlled by Israel, Egypt's Rafah terminal, is not equipped for the passage of goods.

To circumvent the blockade, a vast underground tunnel network into Egypt was established, with the oversight of the Hamas-run government.

After years of turning a blind eye, Egypt started closing the tunnels after the Aug. 5 attack in Sinai when gunmen killed 16 Egyptian soldiers. Egypt suspects the tunnels were used by some of the militants, while Hamas says no-one from Gaza was involved in the attack.

On Saturday, hundreds of Hamas supporters protested at the Gaza border, demanding that Cairo stop sealing tunnels, chanting: "Closing the tunnels is a death sentence for Gaza."

Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh mooted setting up a free trade area between Gaza and Egypt at a meeting on Monday night with Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, but West Bank officials fear this would entrench the separation between their rival governments.


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