RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories — The Palestinian Authority has condemned the network of smuggling tunnels between Hamas-run Gaza and Egypt as a “threat” to security and lauded Cairo’s campaign to seal them.
Speaking a week after a deadly attack which killed 16 Egyptian border police in northern Sinai, Tayeb Abdelrahim, chief of staff to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, expressed full support for Egyptian moves.
“The Palestinian Authority affirms its full solidarity with Egypt and backs all the measures implemented by the Egyptian leadership and the security forces, including special measures to close the smuggling tunnels that are pathways of vandalism,” he said in a statement received by AFP on Sunday.
Within hours of the attack, sources in Cairo suggested some of the gunmen had entered Sinai through the tunnels, prompting Gaza’s Hamas rulers to take the unprecedented step of shutting them down.
“The tunnels have recently become a threat to Egypt’s security and to Palestinian unity and they only serve a small category of stakeholders and private interests,” said Abdelrahim, describing those who run them as “inconsiderate of Egypt and Palestine’s higher interests.”
The tunnels trade, which analysts estimate is worth half a billion dollars a year, has played a significant part in Gaza’s economy since Israel first imposed a blockade in 2006 following the capture of one of its soldiers, who has since been released.
They are used for bringing in a wide variety of goods, including food, fuel and building materials in what many say is a lifeline for the Gaza population.
But Abdelrahim denied the tunnels played such a major part in Gaza’s economy.
“The Palestinian Authority spends more than half of its budget on the Gaza Strip and tunnels have nothing to do with reviving the economy there,” he charged.
He did not say why the tunnels were a threat “to Palestinian unity,” referring to the tense relations between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.