The Egyptian military is resorting to a pungent new tactic to shut down the smuggling tunnels connecting Sinai and Gaza: flooding them with raw sewage. Along with the stink, the approach is raising new questions about relations between Egypt’s new Islamist leaders and their ideological allies in Hamas who control the Gaza Strip.
NY TIMES“Awful,” said Abu Mutair Shalouf, 35, a Palestinian smuggler on the Gaza side, watching workers haul buckets of sewage-soaked soil from the shaft of a tunnel flooded by the Egyptian military 15 days ago. “Why did they do this?”
Advisers to the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, say the answer is simple: they are determined to shut the tunnels to block the destabilizing flow of weapons and militants into Sinai from Gaza — a vow Mr. Morsi made with evident passion in an interview five months ago.
EGYPT’Slong struggled with ways to block a series of tunnels that bring some 30 percent of all goods, including guns, into Gaza so they got creative. Earlier this week, Reuters reported that Egyptian authorities had gone to new extremes to cut off the flow of illegal goods and “flooded” the tunnels that run under the border.
It’s since been revealed that this was not a flood of water, but rather human excrement — hundreds, thousands, even millions of gallons of raw sewage pumped into the same tunnels that, to quote Reuters’ report, “has been a lifeline for some 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza.” It’s also been an increasingly popular way to smuggle arms across the border, a practice Egyptians say is on the rise since the Arab Spring.
The tunnels remain a vital source of certain imports to Gaza and smuggling-tax revenue for Hamas, and when the former president, Hosni Mubarak, used far less effective methods to close the tunnels, Hamas screamed of betrayal.
Concern in Cairo about the tunnels spiked last August, when 16 Egyptian soldiers died in a militant attack on a military outpost in Sinai. The Egyptian government believes the attackers came through the tunnels. Essam el-Hadded, Mr. Morsi’s national security adviser, suggested this week that the loosened Israeli restrictions at the border crossing might have encouraged the crackdown on tunnels.
Around the beginning of February, the Egyptian military began for the first time to use waste water instead, eventually flooding about two dozen of the 200-odd tunnels.