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Egypt tunnel closures create 'serious shortages' in Gaza

July 24, 2013 11:37 P.M. (Updated: July 26, 2013 8:02 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process said Tuesday that Egypt's crackdown on smuggling tunnels, together with ongoing Israeli restrictions, have created severe shortages in Gaza.

Robert Serry, speaking to the UN Security Council, said political developments in Egypt have led to an intensified campaign against smuggling tunnels along the shared border.

"As a result of these actions against illegal activity, according to some estimates, 80 percent of the tunnels are no longer functioning," Serry was quoted as saying by Reuters.

The crackdown has led to serious shortages of fuel and basic building materials, Serry added.

The top UN official warned that access into Gaza through legal crossings must be liberalized, otherwise economic and humanitarian conditions would further deteriorate.

"We encourage all parties not to forget the precarious situation in Gaza and to take advantage of the improved context between the parties to further lift the remaining closures," the Special Representative said, also calling on Egypt to keep open the Rafah crossing for people.

Gaza's minister of economy said earlier this week that the economy had lost an estimated $230 million in June due to the closure of smuggling tunnels by Egyptian authorities.

Over 20,000 people have lost their jobs in the construction industry as a result of shortages in raw materials which usually arrive through the network of smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, Alaa Rafati told Ma'an.

Egypt has destroyed dozens of tunnels since last August following the killing of 16 Egyptian soldiers in a militant attack near the Gaza fence.

Political unrest in the country and security measures in the Sinai peninsula have also caused a large slowdown in the tunnel trade, which has severely damaged Gaza's construction industry.

At one stage an estimated 2,500-3,000 tunnels snaked their way under the desert fence.
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