The Hamas-run de facto government in Gaza must take effective steps to protect workers in the territory's tunnel trade, the Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights said on Monday
The call comes following the death of two Palestinians in tunnel collapses in unrelated accidents on Sunday, bringing the death toll to 120.
In a statement released following the deaths of Mohammed Baraka, 23, and Ahmed Salah Abdeen, 35, The Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights stated that it "calls on the Gaza Government to take immediate steps to act upon the obligations it owes to Palestinian citizens in Gaza. The tunnel catastrophe must end."
According to field investigations conducted by the centre, Baraka and Abdeen, both from Khan Younis, were admitted to Abu Yousef An-Najar Hospital but were pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. Baraka had suffered a fatal electric shock inside a tunnel on the border between Rafah and Egypt, while Abdeen died from suffocation after a tunnel collapsed under the As-Salam neighborhood in southern Rafah. The centre added that sources at the hospital had treated another person who sustained serious injuries and two other persons who sustained moderate injuries when a chemical leaked inside another tunnel.
In response to the escalating number deaths and injuries resulting from tunnel-related incidents, the human rights group stated that "the authorities […] are responsible for taking all the necessary measures to protect its workers and the entire population from the consequences of the lack of its regulation … as tunnels represent an inevitable alternative for society to attempt to deal with the Israeli siege."
The siege imposed upon the Gaza Strip by Israel in 2007 has prevented circulation of commodities and humanitarian supplies, driving the tunnel industry to prosper in response to the lack of essential goods in Gaza.
According to Al-Mezan, of 120 casualties, 59 were killed in the tunnels during the first ten months of 2009. The figure excludes deaths caused by Israeli aerial attacks, which have killed seven Palestinians inside tunnels, raising the total death toll to 127. A further 250 people have been injured in tunnel incidents since the siege began.
The Al-Mezan Centre added that despite its concerns with the Hamas-backed government over the safety of tunnel workers, the smuggling tunnels remain illegal.