Egyptian border guards destroyed on Friday 10 underground tunnels beneath the Egypt-Gaza border in a coordinated effort with military engineers.
The tunnels were used for transporting goods as well as individuals, Military Spokesman Ahmed Ali’s official page said. On Thursday, eight tunnels used for the same purposes were destroyed as well as three underground tanks containing 3,000 liters of diesel and the network of hoses used to smuggle the fuel.
The destruction of the tunnels is part of an ongoing Egyptian crackdown on the illegal cross border underground tunneling activity, a vital lifeline for citizens of the Gaza Strip.
Last week, the army discovered and destroyed the “largest network” for diesel smuggling to Gaza. The network consisted of seven underground tanks near the Rafah border, four of which are concrete and three plastic, storing 30 tons of diesel gas to be smuggled to Gaza through pipes. The move came one day after the Gaza Power Plant had shut down because of a fuel shortage.
The latest weekly report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states that “the total amount of electricity currently available covers only 30% of demand,” with power cuts lasting up to 16 hours a day and electricity demand expected to rise as the weather becomes colder.
Gaza’s Minister of Health Mofid Al-Mukhalalati said last week that “the halt of the Gaza Power Plant, the only power plant in the strip, signals harsh and difficult times,” warning that the shut down could potentially lead to “unprecedented” environmental and health problems.
The power cuts have already affected the operation of water and sewage facilities.
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 led to 80% of the tunnels being out of operation.
Gaza has been under a land, air and sea blockade since 2007 when Hamas took over the strip. The underground tunnels have been vital in supplying residents with food, medicine, fuel and building materials.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh had stated in September that his government would provide for its people following the intensified crackdown on the smuggling tunnels by Egyptian security forces.
Hamas-Egypt relations have witnessed increasing tensions in recent months, much of which is related to the rise of militancy which took place in Sinai, after the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July.
Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said in an interview in September that there are doubts regarding Hamas and “other Islamic movements in Gaza” in relation to “the terrorist activity in Sinai,” adding that tough responses, including military action, will follow if Egypt feels Hamas or other parties are attempting to threaten national security.
In a press conference in October, Haniyeh denied any involvement in the militancy in Sinai.