Friday, February 13, 2009

Inside the Gaza Tunnels

The Guardian, February 10, 2009 - Barely a few paces from the Egyptian border stands a large white tent, fashioned from plastic sheeting and pockmarked with jagged shrapnel holes. Inside, as in the hundreds of identical tents dotted to the left and right, is a scene of energy and illicit industriousness: a dozen Palestinian smugglers sweating to overcome the punitive economic blockade on Gaza. A stone's throw away on the opposite side of the border is an Egyptian police post, with relaxed uniformed officers standing on the roof. They gaze down without a hint of concern.

One unanswered question of Israel's three-week war in Gaza is why the air strikes, artillery shells, tank fire, bulldozing and detonations that caused such devastation and loss of life across the territory did so little damage to the hundreds of smuggling tunnels under Gaza's southern border with Egypt .Those tunnels, which bring in food, clothes, machinery as well as weapons and ammunition, were supposed to be one of Israel's key targets. On the final day of the conflict alone, the Israeli military said it had hit 100 tunnels. Gazans in the border town of Rafah spoke of night after night of enormous air strikes that shook cracks into the walls of their houses and shattered their windows.

But while the sandy border is marked with many large craters, the damage caused to the tunnels was, in many cases, repaired within days. Already some are operating again and new tunnels are being dug under the close eye of Hamas officials, who walk from one tent to the next clutching their walkie-talkies.

The smugglers believe their tunnels were simply too deep to be badly damaged, even by the heavy 500lb or one-tonne bombs dropped by Israeli F-16s. In most cases, the serious damage was only to the entrances to the tunnels, which were soon uncovered again by the Palestinians using bulldozers and then rebuilt. It may be that the focus of the Israeli attacks was on the weapons tunnels, which are closely guarded by Hamas and other armed groups and not open to public view....

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