x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Egypt squeezes Gaza's fuel supply

Egyptian authorities have detained four people attempting to smuggle fuel through the Israeli blockade into Gaza, Palestine.

The Israeli 'security fence' on Palestinian land has long divided land, people and opinion
The Israeli 'security fence' on Palestinian land has long divided land, people and opinion

Egyptian police have discovered a network of 20 underground tunnels leading into Gaza and detained four people attempting to lay a 800-metre fuel pipeline. During the ensuing gunfire three smugglers and one policemen were injured. According to a senior Egyptian security official, authorities seized thousands of gallons of fuel from under the Egypt-Gaza border as the population grows increasingly desperate under the Israeli-imposed blockade.

Aid groups and legal experts have called Israel's blockade of fuel, medicine, food and other supplies, which Egypt has been pushed to enforce, illegal under international law because it constitutes "collective punishment" of the entire population. Israel imposed restrictions on the flow of people and goods and virtually froze economic activity last year when Hamas seized control of Gaza. The blockade has been tightened since January this year with Israeli authorities citing rocket fire as the reason. "It's grossly disproportional," said Geoffry Binder, an expert on international humanitarian law in London.

"What we're dealing with here is a few rockets coming from presumably one small corner of Gaza. And the response is the blockade and the destruction of hundreds of lives and the impoverishment of the whole area." According to a report by a coalition of British relief groups compiled earlier this year: "Sewage is literally pouring into the streets....during the past three weeks we've only been able to send in food and medicine and the aid dependency is rising," said Geoffrey Dennis, head of CARE International, one of the eight non-governmental organisations behind the report.

The report painted a picture of an enclave held hostage by the embargo, which it said had worsened poverty and unemployment, crippled education services and made 1.1 million people - 80 per cent of the population - dependent on food aid. It said the health system was in tatters, with hospitals facing daily power cuts lasting eight to 12 hours a day due to fuel and electricity restrictions. Smuggling supplies is not without its risks; a smuggling tunnel under the Gaza-Egypt border collapsed last week, killing at least five Palestinians and wounding 18, Palestinian officials said on Saturday. *Staff writer with AP and Reuters