Ever since Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza in June 2006, the Strip's residents have had to rely on underground tunnels to smuggle in the most basic necessities, as well as cell phones and petrol from Egypt.
Over the past few months an entire industry emerged in which, for the right price, people can have almost any commodity smuggled into Gaza through elaborate tunnels.
The smuggling operation has not been slowed down despite the recent ceasefire between Israel and the armed Palestinian groups and the opening of some border crossings for the transfer of goods.
"The smuggling tunnels are far from being just holes in the ground," a source in Gaza told Ynet, "this is a full-fledged competitive business that requires maintenance."
According to the source, those wishing to smuggle in goods through elaborate tunnels pay more. "One of the more popular tunnels in Rafah spans nearly two kilometers (about 1.2 miles). Large amounts of goods, usually ordered by prominent merchants, are smuggled through it, and the smugglers sometimes have to remain inside the tunnel for as long as two days."
'Very low quality of goods'
According to the source, the tunnel owner inserts three separate tubes containing oxygen, milk and water for the use of smugglers forced to stay underground for lengthy periods of time.
"The tunnels are chosen according to the quality of lighting, which is very high in the Rafah tunnel," he said. "Traders prefer to use a five-star tunnel even if the price is steep, because they know that in one big smuggling operation they can receive goods that will last them a long time."
According to the source, a ton of cement worth NIS 400 ($117) can cost NIS 2,500 ($732) to smuggle into the coastal enclave "because many people have to be paid off along the way.
"You have to pay smugglers to transfer the goods from Cairo to the Egyptian side of Rafah, which makes the deal more expensive," he said. "The goods coming in from Egypt are usually of very low quality."
Egyptian authorities have boosted their efforts to curb the smuggling phenomenon, partly by probing business owners in Rafah who make unusually large orders.
It is suspected that some Palestinians who benefit from the smuggling industry have attempted to hinder the truce by firing mortars toward Israel and the crossings.