Oct 13, 2013 11:30 AM by Associated Press
Egyptian forces on Sunday (October 13) blew up a house suspected of
hiding a tunnel near the Gaza border, Palestinian and Egyptian sources said.
Egyptian troops were seen deployed in the area, before an explosion on the
Egyptian side of Rafah.
Egypt, which accuses Hamas of aiding Islamist militants in its lawless Sinai
desert, has been waging a campaign to destroy the tunnels, which are used for
smuggling weapons as well, but have also been a lifeline for goods into the
blockaded Gaza Strip.
As a result of Egypt's crackdown, Hamas, which rules Gaza, has lost tax income
from the tunnels and has been struggling to meet its payroll. Thousands of
Gaza's civil servants may not receive their full salaries in time for an
important Muslim holiday next week.
Hamas, which denies the Egyptian allegations that it is helping Islamist
militant groups in Sinai, taxes the traffic through the tunnels - a money
stream that has now virtually run dry
Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, has governed Gaza since 2007 and
has an uneasy relationship with Egypt's new army-backed leadership, which
toppled the elected Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, a Hamas ally, in July.
Egypt has also limited the amount of people who can pass through its Rafah
crossing with Gaza.
It is unclear exactly how much money Hamas used to take in from tunnel
traffic. Economists in the Gaza Strip said the income covered 70 percent of
the government's monthly budget. Hamas officials put the figure at 40 percent.
Some 1 million litres of petrol used to reach Gaza daily through the tunnels
from Egypt. Hamas collected 1.60 shekels per liter. Cement once came through
at a rate of 3,000 tons a day. Hamas's cut was 20 shekels per ton, according
to tunnel operators and local economists.
Hamas, which is shunned by the West over its refusal to renounce violence and
recognize Israel's right to exist, weathered an economic crisis in 2007 when
the group seized control of the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Western-backed
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel tightened its blockade at the time, but the tunnel business flourished,
enabling Hamas to fill its coffers.
Since 2010, Israel has eased internationally criticized economic restrictions
on the territory and recently allowed the entry of cement and steel for
private construction for the first time since 2007. Palestinians said it was
not enough to meet the needs of the Gaza Strip's 1.8 million people.