Thursday, 19 September 2013

Hamas: Egypt destroying Gaza tunnels to tighten blockade


GAZA CITY (AFP) -- Hamas and residents of Gaza fear Egypt's destruction of tunnels used to smuggle goods across the border is part of a plan to tighten a blockade of the Strip.

"The Egyptian army has destroyed 95 percent of the tunnels with the aim of setting up a security buffer zone," Sobhi Ridwan, head of the Palestinian municipality in the border town of Rafah, told AFP.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum echoed the concern.

"We have big fears of a buffer zone being set up and the tunnels all being shut down," Barhum said.

Egypt's army has destroyed many of the tunnels on the Egyptian side of Rafah which are used to smuggle goods, including building material and fuel, into the blockaded territory.

Egypt says it is part of a crackdown against Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula who have links to extremists in Gaza.

Egypt's ambassador to the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, Yasser Othman, told AFP the measures are aimed at tightening security on the border.

"The aim is not to worsen the situation inside Gaza."

Barhum disputed this, saying the moves had nothing to do with Egyptian security operations in Sinai but rather a way to intensify the blockade and "bring the Palestinian people to their knees".

Israel, which controls crossings on its borders with Gaza, is to allow cement, iron and gravel into the Strip for the first time in six years starting on Sunday, but the Hamas government said the move is insufficient to ease the blockade. more

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