The owners of the tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Egypt have expressed their regret at the remarks made by the President of the Palestinian Authority, in which he claimed that the tunnels are used only to smuggle alcohol, drugs and Mercedes. In a series of interviews conducted by Quds Press, some of the tunnel owners said that what Mahmoud Abbas has said is "unfair to the Palestinian people in Gaza".
During his latest visit to Egypt, President Abbas told Egyptian newspaper chiefs that the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt "are only used for smuggling whisky, drugs and Mercedes, while all Gaza's needs get through Israeli crossings to the Gaza Strip".
Abu Mahmoud, the owner of three tunnels one of which was bombed by the Israelis – asked, "The security forces in Gaza monitor every commodity that enters the Strip, so how can we smuggle what Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] says we do?"
Mohammed Naser, who owns a tunnel near the Salahuddin gate, said that he thinks these allegations made by President Abbas are part of the current political pressure being applied; the smuggling charges are, he said, "A slander against the people of Gaza". Another tunnel owner, Mohammed Mansour, became very angry when he heard the accusations: "It seems as if Abbas has lost his mind."
The Interior Ministry of the Palestinian government in Gaza says that it monitors all the goods brought into the Gaza Strip through underground tunnels, which have boomed as Israel tightens its blockade. Gaza's 1.5 million people depend heavily on goods coming through the tunnels for almost three years. Britain's Guardian newspaper has described the tunnels as "the lifeline" for the people of Gaza during the Israeli blockade.
The coordinator of goods getting in to the Gaza Strip, Raed Fattouh, told Quds Press that the Israeli authorities allow Gaza's residents to receive about one-sixth of the their daily needs. According to Jaber Qeshta, the deputy mayor of Rafah, where the tunnels are located, "These comments by Abbas put Egypt, which is supportive of the resistance in an awkward position, as he is saying that Egypt is exporting alcohol and drugs to Gaza."
Mr. Qeshta said that a committee set up by the Palestinian government in Gaza, which includes the Rafah municipality as a member, monitors all goods that come into the Strip through the tunnels. "I believe that Abu Mazen's allegations demonstrate the difficulty that he's going through, and that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip will not forgive his shameless fabrication," he added.
The security services in Gaza have over the past two years launched a series of campaigns against drug dealers and smugglers, after the kind of trade mentioned by Abbas had flourished with the arrival of the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip in 1994. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum scoffed at the accusations against Gaza's people, telling Quds Press, "What Abbas alleges proves that he stands in the Zionist enemy's camp, tarnishing the reputation of Palestinians in order to tighten the blockade against Gaza and incite international opinion against the territory."
Source: Quds Press
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made similar accusations in an interview with the Guardian's Seumas Milne published on 1 February. MEMO responded by sending the following letter to the Editor, which was not chosen for publication:
"If ever proof was needed that Mahmoud Abbas has given up any pretence of representing all of the Palestinian people, his interview with Seumas Milne provides it (Mahmoud Abbas: Israel's West Bank occupation leading to one-state solution, 1 February). How can he dismiss Egypt's role – of which the underground wall is but a part – in enforcing the Israeli-led siege by saying, "Legitimate supplies should be brought through the legal crossings"? If those crossings were open for any kind of goods in a normal way, then Mahmoud Abbas would have a valid point. But they're not, as everyone – except Mahmoud Abbas perhaps – knows. Palestinians working in the tunnels that have been described in the Guardian as "the lifeline" for Gaza do so at the risk of being buried alive, or killed by poison gas or raw sewage pumped in by Egypt; that alone tells a reasonable person that their circumstances must be desperate. The Egyptian can do what the like on their "sovereign" territory, but at the border with Gaza they do exactly what the Israelis and the Americans tell them, and the wall itself is ample evidence of this. In supporting Egypt's action, Mr. Abbas is siding with the Israelis in the blockade against his fellow Palestinians in Gaza; he should be ashamed."