The Hamas government in Gaza has issued new ordinance under which all underground tunnels connecting the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing with its Egyptian side, must be register with local bureaus and connected to the city's power grid, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Friday.
The move, said to be an attempt by Hamas to regulate the tunnels' operations, was prompted by a petition filed by 45 Palestinian families, whose members died in various tunnel collapse incidents over the past year.
The area surrounding Gaza's border with Egypt is believed to have some 200 tunnels running underneath it, each nearly a mile long.
The families formed an association dubbed "the association of tunnel casualties," and are said to be pressuring Hamas' government to order the tunnel owners to pay them restitution, as well.
The tunnels are usually dug by Gaza entrepreneurs, who make their fortune from the commissions paid by those using the infrastructure to smuggle in goods to the sieged Strip. The traffic through the tunnels is conducted freely, in plain sight, even though it is supposed to be illegal.
"As long as we are under siege we have the right to use every way possible to see to the residents' needs, including using underground tunnels," a Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman said.
Hamas, he added, is regulating the nature of the goods brought into the Gaza Strip via the tunnels.
"There are dozens of tents erected on the Rafah border, and each one of them is actually a tunnel opening," a resident of Rafah told the newspaper.
Gaza sources said the Egyptians are fully aware of the tunnels' operations, since the number of trucks coming into Rafah "simply cannot be ignored."