Smuggling tunnel in Rafah (2009)

Smuggling tunnel in Rafah, 2009

Gaza Strip smuggling tunnels are smuggling tunnels that have been dug under the Egypt-Gaza Strip separation barrier which separates Egypt from the Gaza Strip. The barrier runs along the international border along the Philadelphi corridor, which is a buffer zone along the border created by the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. The Philadelphi corridor was specified in the Oslo accords to be under Israeli military control, in order to secure the border with Egypt. When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the Philadelphi corridor was placed under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Then, when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip during the Battle of Gaza (2007), control of the Philadelphi corridor from the Gaza Strip side fell to the Hamas administration. In late 2009 Egypt commenced construction of an underground barrier with the aim of stopping tunnel proliferation.


Rafah is located on the border of the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Because of this strategic location, it accommodated tunnels and has a history of smuggling. These tunnels were and are mainly used by Palestinian militant organizations and gangs for weapon smuggling, and bringing cheap goods from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. The tunnels connect the Egyptian town of Rafah with the Palestinian refugee camp of Rafah.

The tunnels were originally constructed for the purpose of illegal arms smuggling to supply terrorist activity but have subsequently also been used to smuggle people (in and out) as well as for commercial profit-making smuggling of materials like medicine, food and clothes, cigarettes, alcohol, and vehicle parts into Gaza.

The tunnels are normally dug by individual contractors from basements of houses or an olive grove under the border at depths of up to 15 meters (49 feet), reaching up to 800 meters (2640 feet) in length. In some cases, the owners of the houses might receive a portion of the profits from the smuggling and maybe some sort of financial compensation from those in charge of the tunnel building if the tunnel is discovered and the house destroyed.


The tunnels are run as businesses, mainly by the Abu Samhadana and Abu Rish families, both of Bedouin origin. Smuggling provides tens of thousands of US dollars in profits for each delivery. Some sources have also reported financial links to the Arafat family.[1][dead link] An average-sized tunnel costs $90,000 to construct and run; some investors in the tunnels have been defrauded.[2] Some of the tunnels were allegedly controlled by one of the Palestinian Authority security services under the command of Moussa Arafat, cousin of Yasser Arafat. Until his assassination at the hands of a rival Palestinian faction in 2005, Moussa Arafat was believed to receive a portion of the profits derived from the smuggling tunnels. [3]

According to one report [4], the cost of smuggling a person from Egypt into the Gaza strip is $1,000. A Kalashnikov rifle in the Gaza Strip can cost up to $1,000 compared with 2,000 Egyptian pounds ($320) across the border. A single bullet used to cost $3 in Gaza compared with $0.08 in Egypt, but since the Hamas coup, and the subsequent capture of the Fatah weapons' storage, the prices have dropped.

As of May 19, 2004, Strela 2 shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, 9K11 Malyutka anti-tank missiles, and other long-range rockets are reported[who?] to be stored on the Egyptian side of the border waiting to be smuggled through tunnels into the Gaza Strip. [5] 40 tons of explosives have been smuggled.[6]

Measures taken against tunnel smuggling

Palestinians view the tunnels as a lifeline, enabling them access to a wide range of commercial goods during the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel however says the tunnels are also used for arms smuggling. This has led Israel to take measures in attempt to destroy the tunnel infrastructure.

Between September 2000 and May 2004 ninety tunnel egresses leading to a few tunnels connecting Egypt and the Gaza Strip were found and destroyed by the Israel Defense Forces.[7] In May 2004 Israel launched Operation Rainbow, aimed partly at locating and destroying the tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border. During the 2008 Gaza War it was reported that of some 3,000 underground passages that were operational before Israeli offensive, only 150 were still functional following the conflict and subsequent Israeli air raids.[8] In late 2009 Egypt started construction of a subterranean barrier in an attempt to curb the use of smuggling tunnels.


External links

Template:2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict

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