Egyptian state newspaper al-Ahram reported on Saturday of the Hamas smuggling tunnel industry in Gaza. According to the report, some 1,200 tunnels operate on the border between Egypt and the Strip, with the costs of digging out each tunnel reaching some $50,000.
But the high costs of digging the tunnels are evened out with the first smuggling, as the tunnels are rented out either on a daily or hourly basis, or based on a number of smugglings.
The paper's report is based on notes by its reporter which visited the Egyptian side of the border town of Rafah. The report came following Hamas' criticism of Egypt's plans to build a steel fence along the border in order to put an end to the tunnels.
In recent weeks there have been a number of shooting incidents at Egyptian workers building the new obstacle.
According to the report, digging smuggling tunnels has become a real profession for many Gazans. Some 70,000 residents of the Strip take part in the digging, and each tunnel can reap a profit of up to half a million dollars.
The armed forces in Gaza own a large portion of the tunnels, and use them to smuggle food, electric appliances, fuel, weapons and explosives.
'Daily profit of $184,000'
A single smuggling tunnel can yield a profit of up to NIS 700,000 (roughly $184,000) per day, which explains the extensive industry that has flourished around the tunnels.
Digging a single tunnel takes about seven months, and most of the workers are children. The authorities on the Palestinian side of Rafah grant permits for the digging of tunnels and even coordinate with the diggers. The length of the tunnels can range from 700 meters to 1.5 kilometers, and their widths vary.
The tunnels' operators hire guards to watch over them day and night, using tools such as night vision equipment. The tunnels can be rented out on a daily or hourly basis, as well as per the number of smugglings. One tunnel can serve its operators for a period of some five years, "if it doesn't come under unnatural strain", the report said.
The paper presents the tunnels as a national problem, which compromises Egyptian security. The report claims that Hamas used the tunnels to smuggle the operatives who carried out the terror attack in central Cairo last February.
"This raises the question of whether these tunnels threaten our national security," the report said. The tunnels' operators have opened fire at Egyptian security forces a number of times in the past, and have killed and injured Egyptian soldiers.
The report said that in recent month dozens of Egyptian soldiers have been killed in clashes with the tunnels' operators – the last of which was killed last week.
On the Palestinian side, the tunnel industry has taken some 117 victims. Some were killed in tunnel collapses, other due to air pressure or water flushed into the tunnels by Egypt. The tunnel industry in Gaza is without a doubt a serious problem both for Egypt and the Palestinian people.