Hamas condemns destruction of smuggling tunnels to Gaza

Hamas condemned Egypt's decision to flood smuggling tunnels linking Sinai and Gaza, according to a statement Thursday.

"The movement reviewed the issue of the destruction of tunnels with Egyptian officials and hopes that officials in Egypt understand the situation in Gaza and the need for these tunnels," Hamas leader Salah al-Bardaweel said.

Closing tunnels without providing an alternative method for Gazans to get necessary supplies hurts Palestinian families, said Bardaweel, who expressed his hope that Egypt would cease such activities.

“[Smuggling] has been forced on us because of the tight restrictions on the Palestinian people,” Bardaweel said. “[Tunnels] represent an exceptional case that resulted from blockade.”

Palestinian groups have also voiced their anger over the past two weeks in the wake of the country’s crackdown on tunnels between Sinai and the Gaza Strip. Egyptian authorities flooded the tunnels with wastewater.

Sources inside the occupied territory said the crackdown did not have a significant effect on smuggling activities, but caused the closure of about 20 tunnels and raised fears that there would be more tunnel crackdowns in the future.

Egyptian authorities did not coordinate with authorities in Gaza, said Bardaweel, adding that Hamas supports destroying tunnels between Sinai and Gaza if the embargo on goods into the Strip is lifted or an alternative is implemented.

Armed Forces spokesperson Ahmed Mohamed Ali stressed Thursday that the military would continue operations in Sinai, including the closure of border tunnels, to protect national security.

Ali told state-run daily newspaper Al-Akhbar that “claiming the Armed Forces work to besiege Palestinians is unreasonable, as Egypt and its military have always supported the Palestinian cause. We realize how much our brothers in Palestine suffer, but that does not mean that the Egyptian Armed Forces will allow anyone to harm national interests.”

Chief of Staff Sidqy Sobhy stressed in a statement during the International Defense Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi that the country’s military monitors the situation in Gaza carefully and will continue destroying tunnels to protect national interests.

Tunnels are used to smuggle goods to Gaza Strip since Israel imposed a blockade on the strip in mid-2007. Some claim militant groups use the tunnels to get weapons into the territory as well.

Some smuggling activities have slowed slightly after Israel eased the blockade in early July 2010 due to international pressure.

Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm

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