The steel wall being built by Egypt along the border with Gaza is “almost finished”. An Egyptian security source said that only three kilometres remain to be completed, representing the most difficult stage in the construction of the wall in the section between Salaheddin and Barahma, which is densely populated. The anonymous source added that the remaining section also covers the largest number of border tunnels, due to the short distance between homes on the Egyptian and Palestinian sides of the borders; the gap does not exceed 250 metres.
According to Egypt’s Shorouq newspaper, the source said that there are no pipe systems allowing the authorities to flood the tunnels to deter smuggling. Stories to the contrary are, he said, pure speculation. Although he refused to say who, it is believed that certain forces are seeking to determine Egypt’s plans for its border security. Moreover, the source pointed out that out that the wall will put an end to the smuggling operations at their maximum depth, and that using water continuously would lead to problems in the soil.
Five heavy cranes are in place at the site to install a set of steel plates between Barahma and Salaheddin Gate. This phase will be followed by a further 4-6 months’ work needed to install technical equipment. Conventional surveillance posts are being replaced by steel towers and there has been talk of the installation of two electronic gates at the entrance to the city of Rafah, with barbed wire around the population centre.
US military personnel and diplomats from the US Embassy in Cairo visited the construction site a few days ago to check on the wall’s progress. This visit, accompanied by serious security measures, was the latest of many such inspections by the international community of Egypt’s border with Gaza.
The tunnels are used by the people of Gaza to smuggle essential goods such as food, fuel and medicine, which the Israeli-imposed blockade currently stops from getting into the territory. Egypt’s construction of the wall is a US-funded initiative to enforce the blockade. Following assurances by the Egyptian authorities that they intend to evacuate the border strip, it is being claimed by residents that tunnel owners have resorted in recent months to extending their tunnels to areas beyond the existing houses.
The tunnels are very dangerous and collapses are frequent. In the latest incident, the Egyptian authorities have called off their search after Palestinian rescue teams pulled out the body of a Palestinian youth, Bilal Abu Rizq (18 years old) and rescued four others alive. An Egyptian medical source denied that any bodies were taken to hospitals in north Sinai during the search process. Palestinian human rights organizations have been monitoring the death toll in the tunnels. Around 142 Palestinians, mostly young men, have been killed since 2007 when the siege began. Working in the tunnels continues to be a major source of income and a staggering 20,000 Palestinians rely on this employment.
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