Palestinian movement Hamas affirmed Sunday its rejection of “Egypt’s project” to build salt-water channels along the border with Gaza, as it poses a threat to a large number of houses on the Palestinian side of the border and endangers underground natural waters.
Hamas stated that it was in contact with Egyptian officials regarding the matter, to request an end to this measure.
Hamas also condemned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s stance on the matter, as he admitted to advising the Egyptian authorities to implement the channels, according to Sunday’s press release.
“This is a normal security procedure designed to destroy the tunnels,” stated Khaled Okasha, former brigadier general of the Egyptian military, “The tunnels are illegal and illegitimate, and that is an internationally agreed upon concept.”
“Hamas’s stance is understandable since it benefits from the tunnels in many ways; financially, and security wise, when it comes to the smuggling of weapons or illegal materials used in terrorist activity,” explained Okasha. “However, Hamas is exaggerating the issue. It is not a project, it is just a normal security procedure and Egypt retains the territorial right to secure its border.”
Constructing the water channels has been among the measures envisioned within the plan of creating a buffer zone along the Egypt-Gaza border, according to Okasha.
“After destroying tunnel openings on the Egyptian side of the border, Egypt flooded them with water, creating ‘water channels’ on the Egypt-Gaza border that are designed to prevent the creation of new tunnels,” explained Okasha.
The Egyptian army began establishing a ‘secure zone’ along the Rafah border, after a suicide bomber and an armed raid left at least 30 security personnel dead on 24 October.
Immediately after the attack, the Rafah-Gaza border was closed and the Egyptian armed forces later announced it would establish a buffer zone to end all smuggling activity in underground tunnels connecting Rafah to the Gaza Strip.
The buffer zone was originally set to cover an area of 5km along Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip. The first and second phases, each covering 500 metres, have been completed.
Regarding the effect of this measure on the tunnels, Okasha said that it is currently difficult to assess the efficiency of the measure and whether it would lead to the elimination of the tunnel phenomenon.
“However, with the passage of time, we will be able to better evaluate the result of these measures,” he stated.
Since the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi, Egyptian relations with Hamas had deteriorated, as Egypt repeatedly accused the group of interfering in its internal affairs and supporting Islamist insurgents in Sinai.
Morsi stood trial on charges of espionage for Hamas, and received the life sentence.
However, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal stated in a recent interview with Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper that relations with Egypt were beginning to improve, expressing his desire to maintain good ties with Egypt and all Arab countries.
Hamas has been the ruling authority in the Gaza Strip since 2007 when it won the parliamentary elections, defeating the then-ruling Fatah party.
Hamas assuming control over the Gaza Strip was considered a turning point in the history of the tunnels. Since then, a full blockade on Gaza by Israel had ensued, leading to increased reliance on the tunnels for the transfer of goods.