Rafah’s smuggling tunnel diggers are back in business

 

Rafah

For eight days, the sounds of illegal commerce at the ragged southern edge of the Gaza Strip were silenced by the pounding thrum of battle.

Israeli military jets bombed the sandy stretch of land just a stone’s throw from Egypt each day, hoping to collapse the underground avenues for food, cars, medicines and weapons that support Hamas’s rule in Gaza.

Ahmad al-Arja, a 22-year-old engineering student, was among the army of diggers forced to stop work during the conflict. But minutes after Israel and Hamas reached a ceasefire on the evening of 21 November, his boss was on the phone. “He said, ‘Come on, count on God, and tomorrow morning, start digging,’ ” Arja recalled.

The business of Rafah is the tunnel network that circumvents the Israeli blockade of Gaza, and business once again is booming. For Israeli leaders, who are seeking assurances since the recent ceasefire that Hamas be prevented from restocking its weapons arsenal, the return of tunnel commerce poses a strategic challenge.

Since leaving Gaza seven years ago, Israel’s military has lost its on-the-ground ability to stop tunnel smuggling. Since the ceasefire, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought guarantees from the Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi that he will do more to prevent the trade into Gaza — a diplomatic negotiation between uneasy neighbours that in the past has proved fruitless.

As Israel has found in trying to suppress rocket fire from Gaza, an airstrike campaign against the tunnels provides a respite, not a solution. “Our expectation of Egypt, and the rest of the international community, is to stop Hamas from rearming,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr Netanyahu. “We believe they came out of this latest round significantly depleted in terms of rockets and missiles. The way to prevent a future round is to prevent their ability to rearm.”

Major Avital Leibovitz, an Israel Defense Forces spokesman, said there was so far no evidence any new arms shipments have gone through the tunnels since the ceasefire.

Israel targeted 140 tunnels during the recent operation, severely damaging dozens of passages beneath Gaza’s nearly seven-mile border with the Egyptian Sinai. The bombs buried entrances, destroyed concrete-reinforced walls and cratered the muddy access roads used by flatbed trucks that deliver goods across the Strip.

Hamas security officials who monitor the tunnels say at least 50 were collapsed along one mile-long stretch. Diggers think that hundreds of tunnels span the border. But as the Arja family and others toil under a warm winter sun after the cease-fire make clear, none of the tunnels will remain dormant for long.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Sales Advisor - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telephone Sales Advisor is re...

Recruitment Genius: Appointment Maker - OTE £20,000

£14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An office based Appointment Mak...

Recruitment Genius: Healthcare Assistant

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This provider of care services is looking for...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings Administrator

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Purpose of Role: To co-ordinate maintena...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent