Alaa Alrafati, minister of economy in the Hamas government, told IPS that the closure of tunnels was causing a loss of 230 million dollars every month and suffocating around 1,000 factories and industrial units that were dependent on raw material coming through the tunnels.
Alrafati said the authorities in Egypt and Gaza needed to come to an understanding.
“The government in Gaza is prepared to close down all tunnels on the Palestinian side if an official alternative route can be made available with Egypt to address Gaza’s need for commercial goods and construction material,” he said.
He said Hamas government leaders “are interested in developing relations with Egypt.”
The tunnels flourished as they were free of restrictions and represented a way out of the Israeli siege on Gaza. Some studies indicate that the tunnel trade was worth one billion dollars a year.
Professor Sameer Abu-Mdalla, dean of the economics faculty at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, told IPS that the total number of tunnels before 2006 was 60, but following a blockade by Israel in 2007 and the closure of border crossings, the number mushroomed to about 1,000.
He said the tunnels helped meet 60 percent of Gaza’s needs for raw materials and other goods.
Abu-Mdalla said destruction of the tunnels could push the unemployment rate up in the Gaza Strip.
He said the Hamas government had legitimised the tunnel trade and introduced guidelines and taxes. Hence, 15 percent of the government budget came from the tunnels and other related sources.
He pointed out some negative aspects as well, however.
“For example, the tunnels did not generate development in Gaza and led to the emergence of around 800 millionaires who used the income from operating tunnels for money laundering.”
The tunnels were allegedly also a conduit for Palestinian militant groups to smuggle weapons into Gaza for use against Israel. Besides, illegal drugs were being smuggled into the small and crowded territory through them, it was alleged.
With the closure of the tunnels, however, it’s the common people of Gaza who are paying the price. Be it poverty, unemployment or isolation, it has worsened their life in every way.
© 2013 IPS North America
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