Archive for Rafah border

Egypt ‘to open Rafah border permanently’

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza, Hamas, International community, Palestine, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , , , , , on 25/05/2011 by 3071km

Date published: 25th May 2011

Source: Al Jazeera Online

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Egyptian state news agency quotes military sources as saying the border with Gaza will be opened starting from Saturday.

There have been several attempts, some successful, to break the blockade on the Gaza Strip [GALLO/GETTY]

Egypt will permanently open its Rafah border crossing starting from Saturday, the country’s official news agency reported, easing a four-year blockade on the Gaza Strip.

The news agency MENA said on Wednesday that Egypt’s new military rulers set the date for the opening of the crossing as part of efforts “to end the status of the Palestinian division and achieve national reconciliation”.

It said the Rafah border crossing would be opened permanently starting on Saturday from 9am to 9pm every day except Fridays and holidays.

“Sources in national security told Al Jazeera that the military intended to open up the border,” our correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from the capital, Cairo, said.

“A senior member of Hamas visiting Egypt has also confirmed that they have been notified that military will open the border,” he said.

Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston, reporting from Gaza, said, “It comes with no surprise, people of Gaza and Egypt have been waiting for the news for the last few weeks.”

However, it will not be a full opening as there will be some conditions on exit.

“It will allow basically all women to leave Gaza, also children under the age of 18 years will be allowed to leave as well as men over the age of 40 years. However, those between the age of 18 and 40 years will require Egyptian visa,” she said.

“Visa would have to come from Ramallah. Sources in Hamas say, they have been told by the Egyptian authorities over the last few weeks that they [Egyptians] do intend to open some sort of representative office inside Gaza so that people can get the visa from there.”

Sharp departure from past

The decision is a sharp departure from the policies of former president Hosni Mubarak, who had restricted the movement of people and goods through the Egyptian-Gaza border.

Our Cairo correspondent said that “mechanisms in place at the border are going to be very important to watch”.

“In fact, one of the military’s first and important announcements was to abide by all international agreements that the previous government had committed to,” he said.

“One of those agreements that have been previously made had to deal with the opening of the border in Gaza, particularly that the Rafah border had to be under the supervision of European monitors. Our sources indeed tell us that European monitors have not been notified that the border will be opening on Saturday.”

Concerns for Israelis

Certainly this is going to cause some concerns for Israel particularly Europeans as to what mechanism is going to be put in place,” our correspondent said.

Sources at Rafah say that it is unlikely all the mechanisms needed to be put in place can actually arrive and assume the kind of flow that is suspected to come out, he said.

“One of the biggest problems for Gazans besides a shortage of food and supplies has been the psychological impact of not allowing 1.5m people to move freely. There’s no doubt if the border is opened freely for all, there’s going to be a massive influx of Palestinians who would want to get out for the first time since the seize was put in place.”

A year ago Israel significantly eased its restrictions on cargo entering Gaza, but it still severely limits entry and exit of Gazans through its northern crossing into Israel.

Gazans have circumvented the blockade by operating hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the 15km Gaza-Egypt border.

The tunnels have been used to bring in all manner of products, as well as people.

Israel charges Hamas has used the tunnels to import weapons, including rockets that can reach main population centres in Israel’s centre.

The crossing has been mostly closed, in line with an Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, since 2007 when Hamas took control of the coastal territory.

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Israel’s blockade of Gaza is cracking

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Fatah, Gaza, Hamas, International community, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Palestine, Siege, USA foreign policy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 09/05/2011 by 3071km

Written by: Noura Erakat

Date published: 9th May 2011

Source: Al Jazeera English

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Sealing coastal territory undermines past diplomacy – and siege is likely to be broken by post-revolution Egypt.

Egypt has announced that it will open its border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis, thereby reversing Egypt’s collusion with Israel’s blockade regime. The interim Foreign Minister, Nabil al-Arabi, has described support for the blockade by the previous Egyptian regime as “disgraceful“. While Israeli officials have responded to this announcement with alarm, they have limited capacity to undermine the new Egyptian government’s prerogative.

Since the capture of Israeli soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit in June 2006, the Rafah crossing has been closed to Palestinians in Gaza, except for “extraordinary humanitarian cases”. In June 2007, after Hamas’ ousting of Fatah, Israel imposed a naval blockade on Gaza and sealed its five border crossings with the territory. Egypt’s closure of Rafah made the siege comprehensive, and effectively cut off the 360sq mile Strip from the rest of the world.

The devastating impact of the blockade on Gaza’s 1.5million population, where food aid dependency has risen to 80 per cent,  has been defined as a humanitarian crisis by a broad range of international human rights and humanitarian aid organisations – including Human Rights Watch, UNRWA, Amnesty International, and the World Health Organisation.

Under the presidency of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak, Egypt only opened the Rafah border in response to exceptional crises, including during Israel’s Winter 2008/2009 offensive against Gaza and in the aftermath of Israel’s fatal raid on the humanitarian flotilla in June 2010. Rafah’s closure demonstrated Mubarak’s shared interest with Israel in undermining Hamas’ leadership.

Egypt’s post-revolution government is eager to reverse this policy – as evidenced by its successful brokering of a unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas and, shortly thereafter, its announcement that it will end its closure of Rafah. Egypt’s decision comports with enduring border-crossing agreements that have been suspended since 2007.

Egypt’s decision is a resumption of the status quo ante

According to the Agreement on Movement and Access(AMA), brokered by the US and the European Union to facilitate the transfer of authority for crossings from the Government of Israel to the Palestinian Authority following Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza, Egypt is authorised to control the Rafah crossing on its side of the border, in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.

Following internecine fighting in 2007, in which Hamas forces were routed from the West Bank but took control of the Gaza Strip, the border crossing agreement, along with Egyptian and EU participation was suspended -but not terminated.

The European Union’s Border Assistance Mission to Rafah (EUBAM), deployed to support a smooth transfer of authority at the border, has conditioned its presence on cooperation with Mahmoud Abbas’ Force 17, or the Presidential Guard.  Since Fatah’s ousting from the Strip the EUBAM has “maintained its operational capability and has remained on standby, awaiting a political solution and ready to re-engage“.

The EUBAM has extended its mission four times since suspending it in 2007, indicating the EU’s willingness to cooperate with the PA, should a political solution be reached between the rival Palestinian political parties. As recently as late March, the EUBAM Chief of Mission reaffirmed to Egypt’s ambassador to Israel the mission’s readiness to resume its tasks at Rafah.

Arguably, the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation removes impediments to EU and Egyptian cooperation at the Rafah crossing.

Vague though it may be, the agreement between Fatah and Hamas stipulates the rehabilitation of Palestinian security forces and a mandate to end the siege and blockade of Gaza. Although hostilities between the rival parties are ongoing, in theory, technical hurdles undermining the opening of the Rafah crossing have been overcome.

Accordingly, Egypt’s decision to open the Rafah crossing is commensurate with existing agreements and signals a resumption of the status quo ante. Israel can do little to challenge this policy on legal grounds and it lacks the political credibility to maintain the comprehensive siege by force.

Israel lacks political credibility to maintain Gaza blockade 

While 29 Democratic Senators have urged President Barack Obama to suspend US aid to the Palestinian Authority should Hamas join the PA government, European and international support for the unity government is robust.

On May 6, the EU announced that it will provide an additional US$85million in aid to support the PA in light of Israel’s withholding of $105million of tax revenue belonging to the Palestinian Authority. Similarly, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon – along with a coalition of donor nations – have urged Israel to release the Palestinian funds. Meanwhile, the United Nations’ envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, has described the unity government as “overdue“, demonstrating general international support for the unity government that includes Hamas.

Similar international support exists for ending the siege on Gaza. Especially since Israel’s raid on the Gaza flotilla in May 2010, support for the debilitating siege has steadily dwindled. In the aftermath of the fatal attack in international waters, even the US described Israel’s blockade as “untenable” and called on Israel to change its policy toward Gaza.

The White House not only supports an easing of the siege, but it also supports Egypt’s post-revolution government. Shortly after Mubarak’s departure, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Egypt to congratulate the new government – and promised it diplomatic support as well as economic aid. Although not impossible, it is unlikely that the US will challenge Egypt’s decision, which reflects the US’ blockade policy as well as the US-brokered AMA, and risk undermining the government’s nascent development.

Finally, within Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lacks the political support necessary to take any significant risks. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni has accused Netanyahu of isolating Israel and stated that her Kadima party would not join a Netanyahu-led coalition even in the face of September’s “political tsunami”. Livni also opposes the Palestinian unity government, but explains “there is a difference between defending Israel and aiding the survival of a prime minister that only damages the country”.

In light of broad support for the Palestinian unity government, frustration with the ongoing blockade, enthusiasm for Egypt’s new government, and Netanyahu’s tenuous domestic standing, it is neither likely that Israel can mobilise significant political opposition to Egypt’s new policy, nor use force to respond to opening of the Rafah crossing.

Buoyed by impunity, the cover afforded by turmoil in the region, and the desire to establish its qualitative military edge in the region, Israel may nevertheless employ a military option to respond to the reopened crossing. Even if it does not use force at Rafah, it may brandish its military prowess by targeting the forthcoming Gaza flotilla, which will set sail for Gaza’s shores in late June. In light of the political balance, Israel’s choice to use force without a tangible military threat will exacerbate its already waning legitimacy.

Escaping this political trapping leaves Israel with little other choice than to urge the US to act on its behalf. Whether the Obama administration is willing to do so (the US Congress has already demonstrated its willingness) remains unclear in light of a fast-transforming Middle East, where US interests continue to hang in the balance.

Noura Erakat is a Palestinian human rights attorney and activist. She is currently an adjunct professor at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies in Georgetown University. She is also a co-editor of Jadaliyya.com.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

The story of Amina

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza, Gaza war crimes investigation, International community, Operation Cast Lead, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , , , , , , on 25/08/2009 by 3071km

E-mail received: 25 August 2009

Source: International Movement to Open Rafah Border

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Amira Al Qarem (15) from Gaza, whose brother, sister and father have been killed during Operation Cast Lead, is determined to get justice and will file a complaint against Israel at the ICJ at The Hague (Netherlands) on August 31st, 2009.

Her story is emblematic of the attack on civilians during Operation Cast Lead in December and January, where 1400 Palestinians, including 300 children, were killed (according to the report by Amnesty International from 2 July 2009).

On 31 August, Amira Al Qarem will go personally to the International Criminal Court, to file the first complaint from a victim of the Israeli operation Cast Lead. She will be assisted by her lawyers and supported by her doctors.

There will be a press conference at The Hague on monday August 31st at 2 pm.

You can read her story here:

Date published: 25 February 2009

Source: Defence for Children International

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As of 7 February 2009, DCI-Palestine has confirmed the deaths of 304 children, and is investigating a further 96 reports of child fatalities. This means that as many as 400 children could have been killed in Operation Cast Lead.

On Wednesday, 14 January 2009, at around 5:00pm, 14-year-old Amira was on the first floor of her home in Tel al-Hawa in southern Gaza City. She was with her father, brother Ala (13) and sister Ismat (15) when Israeli tanks entered their neighbourhood: “We were very scared,” recalls Amira.

At approximately 6:30pm, Amira’s father, who is the muezzin (person who leads the call to prayer) for the mosque next door left the house to call the Isha (night) prayer. He quickly returned home, and shortly after put the children to bed amidst the sound of nearby shelling and gunfire.

Amira recounts that her father told her and her siblings that he was going to look out the front door of the house to see what is happening. “Sleep and do not be afraid,” he told them. The children fell asleep, but awoke screaming at the sound of a loud explosion just outside their house.

They jumped out of bed and ran to the front door of the house. Amira exited the house first and as she ran several metres beyond the front door, she recalls sensing that she had stepped on a person and froze where she stood. She looked behind her and saw her father lying on the ground and bleeding heavily by their front door. Amira and her siblings, Ala and Ismat, knelt down around their father as they screamed and cried in fear. “Please God, don’t let my father die” Amira repeated as she sat on the ground next to him.

Amira’s brother and sister told her to stay with their father while they went to get an ambulance. Her brother and sister had already run several metres when Amira heard the sound of another explosion. At that moment, she reports feeling her right leg divide into two parts. Amira screamed out in pain and her brother and sister ran back to help her. Amira’s brother tried to move her leg but could not. So Ala and Ismat set off again to find an ambulance, telling Amira not to be afraid. Amira watched them run down the street until they rounded a corner and moved out of sight. She could no longer see her siblings but she could hear their voices shouting, “Ambulance! Ambulance! Please help us.” Moments later, Amira heard the sound of yet another explosion and saw heavy smoke rising from the area where her siblings had gone. She could no longer hear their voices.

Amira sat by her father, pleading with him to wake up but he did not move. She grew afraid when she heard the sound of tanks approaching and crawled back inside her house through the front door. She convinced herself that her father would wake up and follow her inside so she deliberately left the front door open for him. Inside the house, she crawled to the balcony overlooking the street. Moments later, she heard yet another explosion and saw smoke rising from the area where her father was lying. When the smoke cleared, she saw that her father’s legs had been torn from his body. At this point she says, “I knew he was dead.” Exhausted, and numbed by the pain from her right leg, Amira fell asleep on the balcony, waking up to daylight the following morning (Thursday).

Cold and thirsty, Amira struggled into the kitchen to drink some water. As she pulled herself up to stand on her left leg, she fainted and fell to the ground. Amira regained consciousness some time later and was then able to pull herself up to the kitchen sink to drink water from the tap. Afterwards, she crawled outside to where her father’s body lay to retrieve his mobile phone from his pocket. She wanted to give the phone to her father’s cousin who lived about 500 metres away so he could inform her father’s contacts that he had been killed. She dragged herself to his house and knocked on the door, but no one answered.

Amira then covered herself with a nylon sack she found on the ground and with the leaves hanging from a nearby tree in order to stay warm. She remained in this location until the next morning, falling in and out of consciousness throughout the night. She recalls being afraid of the sound of barking dogs, tanks and shellfire. She reported saying to herself “My father will protect me,” each time she felt afraid.

By morning light (Friday), Amira saw that there was a hole in the wall surrounding the nearby house of a journalist she knew well because her older sister had befriended his daughter. Weak and dehydrated, Amira crawled through the hole into the garden and then inside the house in search of water. She found a room with many mattresses and blankets and also a bottle of water from which she drank.

“I crawled and grabbed the bottle of water and quickly began drinking. The water was delicious. I then slept on a mattress and covered myself with a blanket because I was very cold. I could see a helicopter from the shattered window of the room”.

“I slept and woke up several times. […] Once, I crawled into the bathroom and filled the bottle with water from the tap. While crawling back to the room, I saw a jar full of pickled olives thrown on the floor of the kitchen. For sure it was for stock purposes. We used to store pickled olives until they became edible for the year ahead. I grabbed the jar and tried to open it because I was starving, but I failed. I left it there and crawled back to the room. I lay down on the mattress and covered myself. I reckon it was Saturday. I slowly began drinking from the bottle. I did not want to waste water because I did not feel able to go back and fill it”.

More than 60 hours after her ordeal began, Amira was finally discovered when the journalist who owns the house returned and discovered her lying in the room. He had earlier evacuated his family to another location in fear of the imminent arrival of Israeli forces in the neighbourhood. When the journalist asked Amira how she arrived at his home, she responded, “I’m wounded uncle. I’m sorry I entered your house without your permission. I was hesitant to do so, but I did not know any place else to go. Please forgive me.”

Amira was rushed to Shifa Hospital where she underwent immediate surgery to fuse the shattered bones in her right leg. She suffered significant blood loss and required a blood transfusion as a life-saving measure. Four days later, Amira underwent further surgery to rehabilitate her leg.

Amira was placed under the care of a group of French doctors who wanted to send her to France for further treatment to ensure she does not suffer the loss of her lower limb. On 22 January and again on 23 January, Amira, accompanied by her aunt, was taken via ambulance to Rafah crossing to enter Egypt. Both times, they were denied entry by Egyptian officials who shouted abuse at them, accusing them of lying about the extent of Amira’s injury.

As of 5 February 2009, Amira is still in Gaza awaiting permission to enter Egypt via Rafah crossing in order to receive continuing medical treatment abroad. Efforts by delegations of international doctors are ongoing to coordinate and obtain the proper permits for her exit. Amira is exhibiting signs of psychological stress as a result of the trauma she experienced and further delays in her treatment will only set back her recovery.

The use of indiscriminate force in densely populated civilian areas is a violation of international law. All parties are bound by international legal obligations to distinguish between combatants and civilians and take all necessary precautions to minimise civilian casualties when conducting hostilities. All parties must respect the principle of proportionality and necessity when conducting and planning military operations. In the context of densely populated Gaza, military commanders must exercise even greater diligence to minimise harm to civilians. Israel’s use of heavy artillery and tanks in Gaza City’s neighbourhoods is a violation of international law as these weapons are by nature indiscriminate, striking at military and civilian objects without distinction as in the case of this family.

As the surviving victims of Operation Cast Lead struggle to cope in its aftermath, DCI-Palestine continues to call for:

– Unimpeded access for the provision of urgent humanitarian and medical assistance to the Gaza Strip;

– The immediate and permanent lifting of Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip to allow the free flow of people, goods and services in and out of the territory;

– An independent investigation into incidents involving civilian fatalities during Operation Cast Lead, and prompt prosecution in accordance with international law of those found responsible for ordering, planning and carrying out war crimes;

– The annulment of the upgrade of EU-Israel bi-lateral relations approved by the EU-Israel Association Council on 16 June 2008.

        For further information please go to the Gaza Under Attack page.

        Update: As of 25 February, Amira is out of the hospital and residing with relatives in Gaza City. After unsuccessful attempts to enter Egypt via Rafah crossing despite the best efforts by intermediaries, Amira’s injured leg began to exhibit signs of improvement and the risk of amputation was significantly reduced. She continues to receive medical care in Gaza City as she is no longer deemed a priority case for medical evacuation by the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Although she displays promising signs of physical recovery, the psychological stress from the trauma she endured are ever present.

        Egypt re-opens Rafah crossing

        Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza, Hamas, Palestine, Siege with tags , on 27/06/2009 by 3071km

        Date published: 27th June 2009
        Source: Al-Jazeera English
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        Egypt re-opens Rafah crossing

        The crossing was to remain open for three days [AFP]

        Egypt has re-opened the Rafah crossing with Gaza for three days to allow Gazan patients, students and visa-holders to leave the besieged Hamas-ruled Strip, an Egyptian official at the crossing has said.

        Israel has sealed Gaza off from all but vital humanitarian aid and has strictly limited movement into and out of the territory since Hamas movement seized power in June 2007.

        Egypt has occasionally opened the Rafah crossing – the only Gaza crossing that bypasses Israel – to allow aid in and students and medical cases out.

        In a surprise visit to the crossing, Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader, said he hoped to see its “complete” re-opening.

        “We are prepared and ready [to operate the crossing] according to arrangements undertaken with our Egyptian brothers, the Europeans, the presidential guard [of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president] and the [Hamas-run] government.”

        Egypt has consistently rejected pressure to open its border with the Gaza Strip permanently, insisting it can only do so when the Abbas’ authority has been restored.

        An international agreement signed by Israel and Abbas’ Palestinian Authority in 2005 provided for EU monitoring of all traffic across the border and the installation of Israeli security cameras.

        But Hamas has rejected any Israeli presence at the crossing.

        Two die in air raid on Gaza tunnels

        Posted in Gaza, Hamas, IDF, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Operation Cast Lead, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , on 02/05/2009 by 3071km
        Date: 2nd May 2009

        Source: Al Jazeera English

        The Rafah tunnels are used by Palestinian groups to  ferry supplies covertly into Gaza [AFP]

        The bodies of two Palestinians have been recovered from a tunnel in Gaza bombed by Israeli aircraft, medical workers say.

        The air raids, which targeted several tunnels each running between Gaza and Egypt, took place on Saturday near the near the border town of Rafah, the Israeli military said.

        The bombing came shortly after three mortar rounds were launched into Israeli territory from the northern Gaza Strip, causing no casualties.

        The Palestinian Resistance Committees, an armed group in Gaza, said that it had fired the mortars.

        Raids resume

        The raids on Saturday came a day after Israel bombed several tunnels, saying they were used to smuggle weapons into Gaza.

        The coastal territory is under the de facto control of Hamas, an armed Palestinian political group that does not explicitly recognise the Jewish state.

        The latest round of Israeli air raids are the first to target Palestinian tunnels in nearly two months.

        Missile fire by Palestinian rocket squads has diminished since Egypt began efforts to ensure that a January 18 truce that ended Israel’s 22-day offensive on Gaza holds.

        Israel launched its war on Gaza with the stated aim of preventing armed groups in Gaza from firing rockets towards its territory.

        At least 1,417 Palestinians were killed during the war, of whom 926 were civilians, a Palestinian human rights organisation says.

        The Israeli military says the death toll was 1,166, of whom 295 were civilians. At least 13 Israelis, including three civilians, died over the course of the conflict.

        The Tunnels

        Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza, Hamas, Israeli occupation, Operation Cast Lead, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , , , , on 25/04/2009 by 3071km

        A Palestinian citizen getting a sheep through a tunnel (NPR, AFP/Getty Images)

        A Palestinian citizen getting a sheep through a tunnel (NPR, AFP/Getty Images)

        The Tunnels Between Gaza And Egypt

        Many tunnels that are leading to the besieged Gaza Strip have been constructed under the ground of the Palestinian Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza. The existence of these tunnels has raised alarm among the Israelis, who in the last war on Gaza failed to destroy them despite delivering hundreds of bombs in the Rafah area.

        Palestinians are forced to use these tunnels as the last resort to break the strict Israeli siege on Gaza. Tunnels are still able to provide Gaza with relief materials, livestock and the basic requirements of the inhabitants of Gaza, such as gas, rice, sugar and even goats and cows.

        It is believed that there are about 1000 tunnels under the ground and only a few have been destroyed because of the Israeli heavy shelling between Gaza and Egypt. The deepest point of drilling under the ground is around 27m and the length of such tunnels is sometimes around 900-1000 under the earth’s surface.

        We have to mention that Gaza is suffering from a rising unemployment since Israel tightened its blockade on the territory in 2007 trying to weaken the Palestinian rulers of the Hamas government. Goods are scarce in Gaza markets because of Israeli restrictions on Gaza and the strict control of what Palestinians can import and what they can’t. However, through the underground tunnels Palestinians can transfer all types of goods including fuel and spare parts for cars, computers and clothing.

        Some of the owners of these tunnels told us that its number has increased to about 1000 tunnels and they are staffed by between 20 and 25 workers in the Palestinian gray economy struggling to continue. Some owners of these tunnels added that Hamas imposed taxes on the trade through tunnels.

        The construction of tunnels is not cheap: the cost of digging a tunnel of around 500 meters long is between USD 60.000 – USD 90.000, while the cost of a tunnel of 1.000 meters of length with additional safety measures can be up to USD 150.000. The possibility of danger in these tunnels is evident. Palestinian officials say that only this year 45 workers died under the tunnels because of accidents.

        Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, ending the control of the Fatah faction of President Mahmud Abbas, and adopted the sector of tunnels as a means of challenging the Israeli siege. It is known that Hamas blamed the Egyptian security forces, under Israeli and USA pressure, of the collapse of the tunnels.

        Tunnels are by now the only way to break the siege on Gaza. They provide for the simplest human needs helping to overcome the crisis and allowing life to continue in the Strip.

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        To know more about the tunnels, check this podcast from NPR broadcasted before Operation Cast Lead started:

        Smugglers’ Tunnels In Gaza Strip Booming (NPR, 08-12-2008)