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'Hamas to close tunnels if Egypt will open border'
May 21, 2013 20:27
Ma'an quotes Gazan official as saying tunnel issue resolved by balancing Egypt's security needs with Gaza's humanitarian needs.
Gaza smuggling tunnel

Gaza smuggling tunnel 370. (photo credit:Mohammed Salem / Reuters)

Hamas said it would be willing to close all smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border upon opening of a commercial crossing, Palestinian news agency Ma'an cited Ghazi Hamad, Hamas undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as saying Tuesday.

Egyptian police angered by the kidnapping of seven colleagues Thursday by Islamist gunmen closed a crossing into the Gaza Strip on Friday.

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"The tunnels issue can be resolved by finding a solution that balances the security needs of Egypt and the humanitarian needs of the Gaza Strip through lawful commercial transactions monitored by both," Hamad was quoted as saying.

The closure had left populations stranded at the border crossing, mainly students and sick people, adding to the strife of Palestinians in Gaza, the undersecretary was reported as saying.

Hamad told Ma'an "we do not want the tunnels in the first place. They burden citizens and cause hundreds of fatalities, but they are essential because there is no alternative."

He stated that while Gaza's residents suffered from strained relations between Egypt and Gaza, Israel was the only body that benefited from the situation.

Egyptian forces have flooded smuggling tunnels under the border with the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip in a campaign to shut them down, Egyptian and Palestinian officials said.

The network of tunnels is a vital lifeline for Gaza, bringing in an estimated 30 percent of all goods that reach the enclave and circumventing a blockade imposed by Israel for more than seven years.

Following Thursday's kidnappings, Egyptian police also blocked a commercial border crossing with Israel on Sunday to pressure the Cairo government to help free the men.

Hardline Islamist groups in North Sinai have exploited the collapse of state authority after the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 to launch attacks across the border into Israel and on Egyptian targets.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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