A smuggling tunnel beneath the Egyptian-Gaza border in Rafah [File].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
CAIRO - People who dig and use cross-border tunnels in Egypt could face a maximum penalty of life in jail, state news agency MENA said on Sunday, citing amendments to the penal code targeting activity in the frontier area near the Gaza Strip.
Egypt declared a state of emergency in the border area last year after at least 33 security personnel were killed in attacks in the Sinai Peninsula, a remote but strategic region bordering Israel, Gaza and the Suez Canal. There were several militant attacks in the Sinai on Sunday.
The amendments to the penal code were passed by presidential decree, MENA said.
It also said people who used illegal crossings to transfer goods or equipment could also face a life sentence, as well as people with knowledge of them who failed to report them to the authorities.
It said the government had the right seize buildings on top of the tunnels or any of the tools used to make them.
Residents of Sinai, who complain they have long been neglected by the state, say they rely on smuggling trade through tunnels for their living. Egyptian authorities see the tunnels as a threat and regularly destroy them.
In November Egypt said it would deepen its buffer zone with Gaza after finding local tunnels, expanding the zone from 500 meters to 1 kilometer. In order to do this, Human-rights group Amnesty International reported that Egypt forcibly evicted an estimated 1,165 families in Rafah.Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.