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27 Jan, 2009 06:44

Gaza tunnel network back to life

In southern Gaza merchants are busy rebuilding a complex network of underground tunnels used to bring in goods from neighbouring Egypt. Many of the passages were destroyed or badly damaged during the Israeli offensive.

At Shuck Alnejma – a market place in Rafah, southern Gaza – one can buy everything, from food and diesel to clothes and even washing machines.

All goods there have been brought in from Egypt – though not through the usual channels of customs control and border checks.

Meflah Alawadeyya earns about $100 a day selling heaters.

“These goods come to us from the tunnels because all the border crossings are closed. We have to keep working to survive, so when they close the crossings, the only choice we have is to bring in goods from the underground tunnels. If they destroy the tunnels, we will die because then we will have nothing,” Meflah says.

This underground world that connects Egypt and Gaza is a labyrinth of tunnels can transport enough goods to fill the shops above.

In the last three years since Hamas came to power, about 12,000 tunnels have sprung up.

They fill the gap in a market that can no longer rely on an international community that says it will have nothing to do with Gaza as long as Hamas is in power.

Meanwhile, Israel says many of those tunnels are used to smuggle weapons into Gaza. It claims it destroyed as many as one thousand during its recent offensive. Ten days on, many of the tunnels have already been rebuilt.

Tunnel digger Nadar says the Israelis attacked a lot of tunnels in Rafah, but they missed quite a few and so some are still working.

“Those that are not working we’re fixing fast, like this tunnel – we’ve rebuilt it, and within a week we’ll start bringing in stuff again from Egypt,” Nadar says.

No one there will admit to smuggling in weapons.

“We use this tunnel to bring in diesel and fuel, not weapons. The Israelis destroyed about fifty per cent of this tunnel in their attacks but we’ve rebuilt it. They attacked our generator,” tunnel digger Amal says.

While the work continues, there’s a sense of urgency in the air – no one there fully believes the Israelis won’t strike again soon.