Egypt`s security clampdown disrupts Gaza smuggling
Rafah (Gaza Strip): An Egyptian security crackdown has severely disrupted smuggling to the neighbouring Gaza Strip, causing a fuel shortage, doubling the price of building materials and shutting down some construction sites in the Hamas-ruled territory.
Egypt`s military clamped down on the lawless Sinai Peninsula, which abuts Gaza, in the run-up to mass protests planned for Sunday by Egyptian opposition activists trying to force out the country`s president, Mohammed Mursi.
It`s not clear if the Sinai lockdown is temporary or signals a tougher security regime aimed at restricting smuggling through tunnels running under the Egypt-Gaza border in the long term.
That would have a devastating effect on Gaza, which has relied on smugglers since Israel imposed a border blockade following the rise to power of the Islamic militant group Hamas in 2006.
The Sinai campaign began this month when Egypt`s military sent troop reinforcements and set up dozens of roadblocks across the sparsely populated stretch of desert that runs from the Suez Canal to the Gaza border. As a result, Egyptian trucks carrying cement, steel rods, fuel and other goods could no longer reach the Gaza tunnels.
"Nothing can get to the (tunnel) area," said Abu Khaled, 44, a tunnel operator in Gaza. "We are like a dry lake now. ... We all pray that this will end soon."
Gaza has only small reserves of cement, steel and other materials for private construction. With few exceptions, Israel bans such goods for fear Hamas will divert them for military use.
In response to the Sinai clampdown, the price of cement has doubled to USD 220 per ton, forcing some of the more than 200 private construction sites in the territory to shut down, contractors said. A shortage of cheap Egyptian fuel is forcing Gaza motorists to buy more expensive Israeli imports.
For now, Gaza`s Hamas government is keeping silent. Hamas and Mursi`s Freedom and Justice Party share the same roots in the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas leaders appear reluctant to add to Mursi`s troubles by complaining publicly about the disruption of smuggling.
The Egyptian military is known to be wary of Mursi`s close ties to Hamas, viewing it as a threat to Egypt`s public security. The military is bound to play a pivotal role in the current showdown between Mursi and his opponents, with both camps trying to ensure its support. Hamas would undermine Mursi by demanding an end to the Sinai crackdown now.
Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader in Gaza, said the movement is aware of Mursi`s domestic problems.
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