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Egyptian army: 69 tunnels on Gazan border destroyed since March

April 18, 2015 9:03 P.M. (Updated: April 20, 2015 11:20 P.M.)
CAIRO (Ma'an) -- The Egyptian army has destroyed 69 tunnels along the border with the Gaza Strip since Mar. 28, an Egyptian army spokesman said Saturday.

Spokesman Muhammad Samir said that Egyptian border forces stationed in the Egyptian side of Rafah had discovered and destroyed the tunnels in coordination with army engineers.

In a statement released last month, Samir said the army had destroyed 194 tunnels between Feb. 1 and Mar. 19, and another statement at the end of March said that 22 tunnels had been destroyed between Mar. 20-27.

The latest 69 puts the total number of tunnels destroyed at 285 since February.

Earlier this month, the Egyptian Cabinet approved a draft resolution criminalizing the act of tunnel-digging along Egyptian borders with the punishment of life imprisonment.

The smuggling tunnels have served as a lifeline to the outside world for Gaza's 1.8 million inhabitants since Israel imposed a crippling siege on the coastal enclave in 2007, which is supported by Egypt.

While the tunnels are used by Hamas as a source of tax revenue and inflow of weapons, they also supply highly-demanded necessities for Gazans including food, medicine, as well as infrastructure materials including concrete and fuel.

Egypt has sought to destroy the tunnels as part of an ongoing security campaign in the northern Sinai against anti-regime militants launching attacks on Egyptian police and military personnel.

The Egyptian army stepped up the campaign after a bombing killed more than 30 Egyptian soldiers in the region in October 2014.

Egypt accuses Hamas of supporting the group that carried out the attack and has since accelerated efforts to uncover tunnels and create a 1 km-wide buffer zone along the border.

Around 1,110 houses on the Egyptian side have been demolished to make way for the buffer zone and more than 1,000 families have been displaced.

Hamas, which denies Egyptian accusations, has suffered poor relations with the Egyptian government ever since the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood, with whom they were closely allied, was thrown out of power in July 2013.

The Egyptian army has destroyed hundreds of smuggling tunnels since then, though new ones continue to be found.

At the end of March, the longest tunnel so far was discovered, stretching 2.8 km and passing beneath three homes in the Egyptian side of Rafah.

At the time of its discovery, Egyptian military sources told Ma'an that the tunnel was three meters below ground and was being used to smuggle people, weapons and goods.

Although the Egyptian government dropped their classification of Hamas as a terrorist movement in March, Palestinians continue to face closures and restrictions at the Rafah border crossing.
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