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Thursday Feb. 10, 2011 1:42 PM (EST+7)
Egyptian unrest undermines tunnel business

Read more: Egypt protests, tunnels, smuggling tunnels, economy, Gaza Strip, Rafah

GAZA, Feb 10 (Nidal al-Mughrabi/Reuters) - Unrest in Egypt has slowed the smuggling of some commercial goods into the neighboring Gaza Strip through border tunnels, a Palestinian smuggler said on Thursday.

Stores in Egypt's northern Sinai peninsula that supply Gaza shops have run out of merchandise such as refrigerators, washing machines and computers due to a disruption of supplies from Cairo and other cities, said Abu Mahmoud, a Gaza-based smuggler.

The tunnel network has helped Palestinians in Gaza contend with an Israeli blockade to which Egypt also has subscribed.

Unless stability is restored in Egypt, I am afraid the goods will completely stop and the tunnel business will die maybe in a week, he said.

Fuel and construction material, Abu Mahmoud said, continue to reach the Gaza Strip through the underground passages, but in limited amounts and at higher prices since protests erupted last month in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule.

Gaza supermarket owners said there has been no significant increase in the price of food staples, such as flour and sugar, because they do not come in from Egypt.

It was unclear, however, whether the turmoil in Egypt has affected the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip, territory run by Hamas Islamists who oppose Western-backed efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Abu Mahmoud said Israeli air strikes on tunnels and the high prices charged by Egyptian merchants for some goods such as cement had led many Gaza businesses in recent years to cut back on new orders.

Israel eased the blockade last June in the wake of an international outcry over its deadly raid on a Turkish ship in a Gaza-bound flotilla. Israeli troops killed nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists in violent confrontations on the vessel.

Only a few of the 250 tunnels that had been operational before the unrest in Egypt last month are still open, Abu Mahmoud said.

Tunnels are clinically dead, he said. Workers and tunnel owners come to the area to chat and drink tea and smoke cigarettes.






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