The much anticipated opening of the Rafah terminal – the single crossing point for people between Gaza and the outside world - whet their taste for travel without sating it. As a result, demand to get people over the border into Egypt and back has swelled. Tunnel operators say business is strong again, giving them the incentive to keep their underground passages open and maybe even expand them.As a result, Arabic media is reporting that Egypt plans to map all the tunnels in Rafah in preparation of their closure:
“Tunnels that smuggle people weren’t popular before and there were only one or two of them.
But since there’s no point in sending goods through them, many of us are thinking about switching to smuggling people,” [tunnel operator Abu]Ola told The Media Line. “We don’t even need to smuggle cars anymore, because Israel is letting cars enter Gaza. Rafah is messed up, so many people are resorting to tunnels to get in and out of here.”
That’s good news for tunnel entrepreneurs like Ola as well as the many Gazans with legitimate reasons to travel, whether they are family members seeking to be reunited or someone in need of urgent medical care. But it’s bad news for Israel, which believes the attack on its border with Egypt last week that left eight dead was the work of terrorists smuggled out of Gaza through one of the underground passages.
The thriving tunnel business, together with the growing lawlessness in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula adjacent to Israel and Gaza, has made it easier than ever for gunmen to cross the border with weapons and supplies. Israeli officials say that last week’s attacks, which occurred some 180 kilometers (110 miles) from the Gaza Strip, could have only succeeded if the perpetrators travelled from Gaza through Egypt to the Israeli border.
Security has been tightened in the city of Rafah, at the main entrance of the crossing and nearby areas, as well as intense inspections for those in transit to and from the crossing, as part of the security crackdown carried out by the Egyptian army on vital installations in the northern Sinai.
Egypt had coordinated with the government of Hamas in the Gaza Strip to prevent the infiltration of individuals from both sides, while in pursuit of those who may be involved or participated in acts of sabotage in the Sinai.
A statement issued by a number of tribal elders in Sinai called on Hamas to prevent the infiltration of people from Gaza, and said that any Palestinian infiltrators will be handed over to Egyptian security authorities.