GAZA - Egypt's crackdown on smuggling tunnels along its border with the Gaza Strip is making shortages ever tighter and has forced the enclave's Islamist Hamas rulers to consider urgent alternatives.

Hamas officials asked Egypt late on Monday to consider alternative trade routes, such as a free trade zone, a direct deal that could boost Hamas tax revenues and circumvent rival Fatah's and Israel's control of official imports to Gaza.

Egypt started closing the tunnels after the Aug. 5 attack in Sinai when gunmen killed 16 Egyptian soldiers. Egypt suspects the tunnels were used by some of the militants. Hamas says no-one from Gaza was involved in the attack.

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