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Egypt Pumps Seawater Into Tunnels to Prevent Smuggling Operations in Gaza

Underground tunnels at the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza have been flooding, worsening the crisis created by isolation and embargoes.

The Egyptian Military has begun to flood underground tunnels connecting Egypt to Gaza in an attempt to stop smuggling operations between Sinai and the besieged Palestinian territory according to security officials and witnesses. The Gaza strip, which to this day remains under a constricted military blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, is also under the control of Hamas who Egypt claims are using the tunnels to smuggle weapons to Sinai-based members of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis; the militant group who swore allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Hamas however, denies these accusations.

The underground structures are being flooded with Mediterranean Sea water since last Friday and, according to Mayor Subhi Radwan, will damage the aquifer supplying clean water to Rafah; a town caught at the borders between Egypt and Gaza, with a population of 152,950. Rafah is overwhelmingly made up of Palestinian refugees, and is already forced into isolation due to the political situation surrounding it from both ends, with its residents suffering from a lack of resources and support from the Egyptian government, who by pumping sea water into these tunnels, are practically destroying hundreds of homes. “It will also deprive the farmers from using the water for irrigation and growing their plants,” claims Mayor Radwan. “It will cause landslides, and could lead to the collapse of houses along the borders. Foundations here are already weak from all the shelling."

The residents in Rafah are victims of a situation outside of their own control. The tunnels that were once fully operational beneath the town are targeted by both the Egyptian as well as the Israeli militaries, the latter believing the structures, contrary to Egyptian claims, are being used to supply armed groups in Gaza with weapons, and not the other way round. All the while Egyptian border guards were allegedly looking the other way. The smuggling operations however, have included weapons and fighters, apart from goods and supplies to Gaza, and have earned Hamas millions of dollars in tax revenue.

Hamas share the same ideologies as those of the Muslim Brotherhood who are now also dubbed a terrorist group since the ousting of former President Mohamed Morsi. They are both accused of meddling with Egyptian affairs since the reign of current leader President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2013. Some say the scenarios related to Rafah are exaggerated, while residents have expressed exhaustion from the ongoing situation, fear for their lives and feelings of being betrayed by their Egyptian neighbours. Egyptians claim they are building fish farms along the borders, and that filling the tunnels with seawater was their last resort, since their previous attempts to stop the Gazans from smuggling fighters and weapons by burying the tunnels and building walls were proven to have failed.

Photo courtesy of Reuters.


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