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Gaza feels heat from Egyptian border crackdown
Gaza feels heat from Egyptian border crackdown
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Gaza, Anadolu Agency  - Long queues of cars waiting for hours outside gas stations; frequent power cuts; suspended construction projects; shortages of vital goods and materials; and a drastic reduction in the number of incoming and outgoing travellers.

This sums up the scene in the Gaza Strip since the Egyptian military overthrew elected President Mohamed Morsi on July 3 and launched a major operation against the tunnels that link the coastal enclave with Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

"We can't endure this," Abu Khalil al-Hajjar, a 52-year-old Gaza City taxi driver, told Anadolu Agency.

When Egyptian diesel fuel was available in the market, he used to fill his tank for 130 Israeli shekels (roughly $63) a day. Now he must pay double this price.

As Israeli fuel shipments are limited, al-Hajjar must wait in line for at least an hour or two to get gas.

"I spend time waiting here at the expense of my working hours," he said, wiping the sweat from his brow.

A father of six, al-Hajjar blames all parties involved in what he describes as "attempts to restore the siege on Gaza."

The Egyptian army has launched a major operation against the network of secret border tunnels, which until recently represented Gaza's prime source of fuel and building materials.

The army's ongoing demolition campaign is the largest of its kind since the underground passages were dug in 2007 to circumvent Israel's embargo on the Hamas-run territory.

An official from Gaza's petroleum committee said that some one million liters of diesel used to enter the coastal enclave every day, bound for the strip's single power plant and gas stations.

"Now we only receive an average of 400,000 liters a day for both sectors," the official told AA.

If no solution is found, he expects the current shortage to worsen as Egypt steps up its operations along the border.

Building freeze

The crisis has impacted construction projects throughout the strip, most of which have ground to a halt except for small building enterprises.

"I used to get 1,000 tons of cement a day, now I barely get 30 tons," Abdulasalam al-Masri, a merchant who imports construction materials through the tunnels, told AA.

 

He complained that his revenues had fallen by about 90 percent in recent weeks.

Al-Masri's store in Deir al-Balah City is empty of goods, except for a few containers of paint and some rolls of wire.

He said prices for increasingly scarce building materials were on the rise.

"The price of cement increased from $100 to $200 a ton; steel from $800 to $1,000; and gravel from $800 to $1,000," al-Masri said.

A recent report by the UN Humanitarian Affairs Office said that a maximum of ten tunnels were still operational, down from approximately 50 in mid-August.

The report stated that only 20 to 30 truckloads of goods enter Gaza through the tunnels each day, compared to as many as 200 a day before the Egyptian army's demolition campaign.

Between 2007 and 2010, the tunnels had represented the source of almost all consumer products entering the Gaza Strip, which Israel restricted in a bid to punish and isolate the ruling Hamas movement.

In June 2010, Israel eased restrictions through overland crossing points, allowing food and luxury products into Gaza but maintaining the ban on cement, gravel and steel.

As a result, the Egypt-Gaza tunnels worked at full capacity to bring in materials banned by Israel, sparking a construction boom in the strip.

Restricted movement

Outside the Rafah border terminal, the main crossing point for Gaza's roughly 1.7 million residents, tears and desperation fill the air.

Many people have been reporting to the crossing for a week, some for ten days, without getting through.

"The situation is very bad here," said Maher Abu Sabha, director of crossing points in the Hamas government.

He said that some 6,000 Palestinians were registered to travel, but Egypt had only allowed 300 people to leave Gaza daily since the crossing was reopened last month with new regulations.

According to Abu Sabha, the Egyptians have restricted those eligible to travel to dual nationals, holders of visas and residency permits, and medical patients.

Nabila al-Daour, 50, sat restlessly in the waiting hall outside the Rafah crossing.

A teacher, al-Daour was afraid of losing her job in a school in Abu Dhabi as the new academic year began and she remained stuck in Gaza.

 

"I have been coming here for four days," she told AA, holding her passport and registration ticket in her hand.

She had been booked for bus number six, but the slow pace of progress on the Egyptian side delayed her plans.

"There are now eight buses ahead of me. I don't think I will be able to leave today," she told AA.

Every morning, al-Daour pays 40 Israeli shekels (roughly $11) for a ride to the crossing near Rafah city. She pays the same amount again in the afternoon, when Egypt closes the crossing at 2:00pm.

"If I'm not in the United Arab Emirates by Monday, I will lose my job and UAE residency permit," she lamented.

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