In December 2009, Egypt began constructing an underground steel wall along its 14-km-long border with Gaza. Hamas, the Islamic movement that governs the Gaza Strip, expressed its concern that the wall puts further strain on an already isolated enclave, calling the Egyptian project a “wall of death”.
Egyptian intelligence sources said the wall would run as deep as 30 meters and would be rigged with sensors and pressurized hoses to flood tunnels with seawater. The construction of the barrier should be finished within months according to an Egyptian officer quoted in press reports.
The Egyptian leadership stepped up efforts to end smuggling via the Gaza tunnels after pressure from Israel and the United States. Before the Israeli invasion into the Gaza Strip in December 2008, some 3,000 tunnels were operational; after the conflict there were only approximately 150 underground passages left.
Since the war on Gaza, however, the tunnels have grown in sophistication and Egypt says it fears destabilization from the smuggling trade.
The Center for Islamic Research at the al-Azhar school in Cairo issued a fatwa (religious opinion) saying that the construction of a steel barrier between Egypt and Gaza was in line with Islamic teachings. It stated that Egypt’s legitimate right was to defend its territory and to stop the damage caused by the tunnels.