February 17, 2013 - 1:00am

Hamas released a statement on Saturday condemning Egypt’s closure of tunnels with Gaza, saying this renews Israel’s blockade on the strip, reported AFP.

Khalil El-Haya, a senior Hamas official, said at a conference in Gaza that the tunnels were the only means available to Palestinians to face Israel's “brutal blockade,” reported the agency.

“It is a renewal of the blockade...but Egypt does not want that to happen,” Haya said, urging Egyptian authorities to open the Rafah border crossing to end the blockade.

Hamas shutting down tunnels

Last Wednesday, Hamas have closed hundreds of tunnels running under the territory's border with Egypt due to health concerns over some smuggled items.

“Less than 270 tunnels are operating now, down from around 1,200 tunnels in 2010,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“Many of them were closed down because they were used to smuggle banned materials that harm citizens.”

The Hamas government forbids the importation of drugs and any other items it considers potentially harmful into the Palestinian enclave which is under an Israeli blockade.

Another Gaza source said Hamas had closed about 900 tunnels, and a tunnel operator said others were being flooded from the Egyptian side.

“The Egyptian security forces pump water into the tunnels which leads to their collapse and closure,” said Abu Samir, owner of a tunnel near the Gaza border town of Rafah.

“There is no work in Gaza,” he told AFP.

“What can we do to live? The tunnels are the most important source of livelihood in Gaza now... no matter how many times they demolish them we will rebuild.”

Abu al-Assad, another tunnel owner, said: “The Egyptians closed down the tunnels twice after the (outbreak of their) revolution but I rebuilt after months because to us it is a matter of life and death.”

Hamas, he added, had allowed tunnels to multiply and issued permits for their use to bring in essential commodities, after the Islamist movement seized control of the coastal strip in 2007.

Egypt-Gaza relations

The tunnels have been a vital lifeline for the flow of food, clothes, building materials and fuel into the impoverished territory, which Israel has blockaded since 2006.

After Egypt’s 2011 revolution, Hamas hoped that President Mohamed Mursi’s election victory would strengthen its position and ease the blockade on Gaza.


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