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Gaza tunnel trade takes turn

Oct. 7, 2010 12:16 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 8, 2010 10:49 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The only products entering Gaza via the smuggling tunnels in the past months have been iron, cement and house paint, while a growing trade in goods for export into Egypt has seen recyclables make the reverse trip.

Smugglers in the Egyptian Sinai and Gaza tunnel traders did a rapid shift in business plan following Israel's decision to allow new consumer goods into the coastal enclave in the wake of the global outcry against the deadly Israeli takeover of a convoy of aid ships bound for Gaza at the end of May.

With recycling infrastructure in Gaza largely limited to the production of cinder blocks out of cement aggregates, iron and scrap metals collected from the rubble of the last Israeli war on Gaza and continued airstrikes has headed through the tunnels to Egypt for processing.

The scrap is sold to merchants in Egypt, one tunnel worker told Ma'an, sometimes in exchange for iron re-bar or other construction materials.

In El-Arish, Egyptian Smuggler Abu Barhoum, owner of several tunnels in the Salah Ad-Din and Al-Barahma areas, said exports from Gaza had grown, with particular interest in copper products as the price of the metal increased in his own country.

Though tunnel owners say deals for scrap metals have reached hundreds of thousands of shekels in some cases, overall, the tunnel trade has become less lucrative compared to its boom years of 2007-9, when Israel's blockade of the Strip was at its peak.

Correspondingly. salaries for workers have gone down, from $100 a day in some cases, to an average of $25 a day. Estimates say the number of operating tunnels decreased by 70 percent, with Egyptian officials saying almost 600 tunnels have been shut down since the start of the year.

Drugs continue to be a problem, an Egyptian security source told Ma'an, as margins remain high and the dangerous trade lucrative. Both Egyptian and Gaza government police have attempted to crack down on the trade, but with limited success.
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