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Egypt has flooded a massive network of underground tunnels that connect the Sinai desert to the Gaza Strip. Egyptian officials announced that they had destroyed some 31 tunnels along the border, most of which go underneath Rafah-a city that straddles the Egyptian/Gaza divide. Egypt claims the tunnel system needs to be destroyed to stop the flow of arms out of Gaza and into the hands of militant groups in Egypt.
For Gaza residents, though, the tunnels have served as the only reliable source of food, medicine, and building supplies. There's been a blockade along Gaza's borders since Hamas seized political control in 2007. With a population of roughly 1.8 million people, Gaza is suffering an extreme humanitarian crisis. A recent UN report found that 72 percent of families experience food insecurity and unemployment remains at an all time at 44 percent.
Palestinians living in Gaza relied on the tunnels-some 2,500 of them, according to residents-for everything from vital supplies to cattle to cars. Hamas took advantage of all this traffic and made money off the tunnels, charging taxes for shipments. Hamas also used certain tunnels just for the smuggling of arms, according to reports.
Now, Egypt appears trying to cut off all ties with Gaza and Hamas' leadership, which is linked to the Islamic Brotherhood. Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi came to power following the ousting of democratically elected Mahmoud Morsi (who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood). More pertinently, the seawater being pumped into the tunnels is wreaking havoc above ground, hurting farmland, and potentially carrying disease.
Strangled: Gaza after Egypt floods tunnels (aljazeera.com)
"Underground lifelines used by residents of the town of Rafah are being flooded by Egypt, worsening existing isolation."
Egypt starts building steel wall on Gaza Strip border (news.bbc.co.uk)
"Egypt has begun constructing a huge metal wall along its border with the Gaza Strip as it attempts to cut smuggling tunnels, the BBC has learned."
Palestine Refugees (unrwa.org)