CAIRO: Security troops were out in force in Rafah near the border with Gaza as a tense calm prevailed following clashes Wednesday that saw at least 11 policemen injured.
Forces had been sent to Rafah from Ismailia to buttress the security presence in the area after protestors placed a police convoy under siege for six hours the day before as they attempted to reach a smuggling warehouse.
The warehouse, which is connected to one of the smuggling tunnels that permeate the Egypt-Gaza border, was discovered Thursday afternoon. Gaza has been under a complete blockade for over two years, the tunnels are the main artery for goods that are unavailable in the strip.
Clashes had erupted Wednesday in Dawar Rafi’a, 3 km south of Rafah’s center, when security forces attempted to confiscate some 200 tons of cement they alleged would be smuggled through the tunnels to the Gaza Strip.
Protestors surrounded the warehouse and burnt tires to keep the convoy – consisting of 10 police cars and two armored vehicles – from leaving. Stones were pelted at the security forces and shots were fired in the air.
Intermediaries eventually calmed down confrontation, allowing the convoy to leave the area. A few hours later, they returned to confiscate the cement. No arrests were made.
In an effort to curb smuggling, goods that are transported to Northern Sinai, whether to Al-Arish or Rafah, are subject to numerous checkpoints and searches. This has led to price hikes on the Egyptian side of the border, according to Rafah-based journalist and activist Mustapha Singer.
“The Sinai citizen suffers in the midst of this, the only ones who benefit are a number of smugglers and the corrupt who help them, he said.
Singer added that transportation costs have gone up due to the stringent procedures, which in turn has raised the prices of goods in the area, it they are not confiscated, that is.
“Goods can be confiscated at any point on the route; they may then be stolen and what is left is auctioned off, he added.
Tagammu party secretary in Northern Sinai Ashraf El-Hefny told Daily News Egypt that the only solution to end the pervasive smuggling was to reopen the Rafah border crossing, which Egypt has kept closed since Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007.
“We too live under siege, with high prices and a shortage of goods, he said, “the smuggling must stop and the only way to do it is to open the Rafah crossing.
“The authorities know all about the smuggling, Hefny added. “It must end to help the people of Northern Sinai, to help the Palestinians in Gaza and to end the corruption surrounding the smuggling activities.