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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Egypt denies "poison gas" in tunnel killed 4 Gazans

This morning, Hamas wrote a press release:
-Egyptian forces pumped gas into a cross-border tunnel used to smuggle goods into the Gaza Strip late on Wednesday, killing four Palestinians, Hamas officials said.

A Hamas security official in charge of the tunnel area along the border said the Egyptians filled the passage with some type of crowd dispersal gas.
The Hamas Interior Ministry later said in a statement the gas used to try to clear the tunnel was poisonous. Besides those killed, six people were injured, it said.

"The Interior Ministry confirms that the citizens' cause of death was the Egyptian security forces spraying poison gasses into one of the tunnels."

"This is a terrible crime committed by Egyptian security against simple Palestinian workers who were trying to earn their daily bread," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum to The Associated Press. "It was a killing in cold blood. Hamas and all the Palestinian people condemn it strongly."

The story gets even weirder. From Ma'an:
Wednesday night medics said workers had gone to the tunnel that had in fact been "filled with poisonous gas a week ago, to confirm the toxin had dissipated," Adham Abu Salmiya, spokesman for Gaza medical services, told Ma'an. "They were shocked to find it had actually remained in the tunnel, resulting in the deaths and injuries."
So they went into the tunnel to see if poison gas was still inside. Human canaries?

The entire idea of Egypt spraying poison gas in tunnels makes no sense, as there is nothing to be gained by such a move. Far more likely is that either an Egyptian explosion sucked the air out of the tunnel, or that fuel being smuggled caused the deaths by being exposed to air, or - very possibly - there was an explosion of munitions en route that Hamas doesn't want to admit.

Egypt denied the charges. Palestine Today writes that Egypt always coordinated tunnel demolitions with the Gaza government to ensure that no one is inside, and does not confirm that any demolitions occurred at the time of these deaths.

AP followed up:
The intelligence official confirmed that Egyptian security forces destroyed the entrances to several tunnels this week, but said that no gas was used in the operations. He said that Egypt routinely blows up the mouths to the tunnels to seal them off, and that the blast and an ensuing fire could quickly use up all the oxygen in the confined space, causing people caught inside to suffocate.

It was not immediately clear what evidence Hamas was basing its allegations on.

Mohammed al-Osh, the medical director of the Abu Yusef al-Najar hospital in the Gaza border town of Rafah where some of the dead and injured were taken, could not confirm those killed had inhaled poison gas. He said the hospital did not have the equipment or specialists needed to conduct the necessary tests on lungs and clothing.
Another strange part about this story is that, to the best of my knowledge, the names of the victims have not been released , which could indicate that they were not just smuggling candy bars. (UPDATE: Their names can be seen here. h/t Soccer Dad)

Either way, Hamas' flat accusation of "poison gas" is a lie, as no one in Gaza could possibly confirm that charge.