Gazans collect metal smuggled through tunnels 370 (R).
(photo credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)
For the first time since the election of President Mohamed Morsi, Palestinians
in the Gaza Strip have staged demonstrations against the demolition of tunnels
along the border with Egypt.
Some of the protests were organized by
Hamas, whose leaders had thus far refrained from criticizing Morsi and the new
The protests are seen as the first sign of tensions
between Hamas and the Egyptians since the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak in
In recent weeks, Egyptian security forces have destroyed
dozens of tunnels that Hamas and many Palestinians used to smuggle goods and
people across the border.
The move came after unidentified terrorists
killed 16 Egyptian border guards in their military base in Sinai during
“Oh, people and president of Egypt, until when will you continue
to impose a blockade on the Gaza Strip,” read a placard carried by one of the
protesters during a demonstration near the border with Egypt.
placard read: “We call on the Egyptian leadership not to close the tunnels
without finding an alternative.”
Yusef Farhat, a senior Hamas
representative in Rafah who participated in the protest, said Palestinians were
very disappointed with Morsi’s failure to end the blockade.
Strip was hoping that the Egyptian revolution would break the blockade,” Farhat
said. “We were hoping that the revolution would end the suffering of the people
in the Gaza Strip, which began under the former [Mubarak] regime.”
said the closure of the tunnels has created severe shortages in fuel and basic
goods in the Gaza Strip.
The health sector has also been suffering from
shortage in medicine and medical equipment as a result of the new measures taken
Farhat warned of a “popular explosion” in the Gaza Strip and
said the Egyptian authorities would have to bear the consequences.
ongoing blockade, Farhat said, would also hamper efforts to rebuild houses that
were destroyed or damaged during the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead in
Qatar recently pledged more than $200 million in aid to help
reconstruct the houses and develop the Gaza Strip.
Farhat said the Hamas
government was prepared to close down the tunnels when and if there is an
alternative to ease the suffering of Gazans.
Hamas officials have been
trying to persuade the Egyptians to agree to the establishment of a free trade
zone along their shared border, but to no avail.
The PA in the West Bank
has expressed strong opposition to the idea, out of fear that it would turn the
Gaza Strip into an independent entity and would strengthen Hamas.
Ahmed Masmah, a Hamas operative in Rafah who participated in another protest
against the closure of the tunnels, urged Morsi and the Egyptian government to
“have mercy” on the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. He also appealed to
all Islamic countries to intervene to help the residents of the Gaza Strip and
end the blockade.
Musa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of the Hamas political
bureau, said that contrary to what many think, relations between his movement
and Egypt have not changed significantly since Morsi came to power.
Marzouk said that many Hamas members who were being held in Egyptian prisons
were released long before Morsi’s election.
He confirmed that the
Egyptians “had some reservations” about the establishment of a free trade zone
along their border with the Gaza Strip, but did not elaborate.
Hamas official, Esam Yusef, warned that the Gaza Strip “will die if the Egyptian
authorities continue to destroy the tunnels.”
He appealed to Morsi to
reopen the Rafah border crossing on a permanent basis to help solve the
Yasser Othman, the Egyptian envoy to Ramallah, criticized the
protests against his country.
He said that Egypt was expecting the
Palestinians to take to the streets to praise the Egyptian authorities for
Othman said Egypt has decided to increase the
working hours at the Rafah border crossing, which is now even open on weekends.
The tunnels were closed for security reasons aimed at restoring law and order to
Sinai, he said.