Egyptian security forces destroyed homes and tunnels near the Egypt-Gaza border last week in the continued effort to curb smuggling and illegal immigration.
According to an official statement by military spokesman Ahmed Ali, 10 tunnels in the border town of Rafah were destroyed on 10 February, and another 10 were destroyed on Saturday.
“This comes within the framework of intensive efforts exerted by the border guards to secure all of Egypt’s strategic borders to foil all plans aimed at undermining the stability and security of the society, and harming Egyptian national security,” read the statement.
Multiple Egyptian news sources have reported that the destruction of the tunnels, along with seven homes in which they were located, comes as an attempt to clear a 300 to 500 metre wide strategic buffer near the border, but these reports were denied by a spokesman for the military.
In a September interview with the Daily News Egypt, Ali said that a buffer zone of 500 to 1,000 metres would be applied on the eastern borders of Gaza, “but not fully”. He accused the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip of not securing its borders with Egypt “the way it should”. Ali announced that any houses close to the borders that are considered “a threat to national security” will be evacuated, and their owners compensated.
Egyptian security forces have destroyed many of the illegal underground tunnels lying beneath the Egypt-Gaza border.
Towards the end of July, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert H. Serry said some reports suggested that the Egyptian army’s crackdown had put 80% of the tunnels out of operation, but the crackdown has significantly intensified since.
Gaza has been under a land, air and sea blockade since 2007 when Hamas took over the strip. The underground tunnels are essential for providing Gazans with many products that would otherwise not make it through the border, including food, medicine, fuel and building materials.
Egypt-Hamas ties have been strained following Morsi’s ouster, with media reports showing Hamas connections to internal strife in Egypt and linking Hamas to insurgency in Sinai.