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Thursday, April 30, 2009

MIDEAST: Tunnels Become a Lifeline By Erin Cunningham

Since the Jan. 18 ceasefire, Israel has continued to operate its commercial crossings at minimal capacity. Only 35 percent of the 613 million dollars in funding requested by the United Nations (UN) Flash Appeal for Gaza has been received for reconstruction efforts.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that on average 127 aid trucks a day are entering Gaza, compared to 475 per day prior to the Hamas takeover.

"If Israel opened the borders, the tunnel business would end in a second," says Abu Hussein, a Palestinian who manages a tunnel on the Gaza side of the border. "But what are we supposed to do? These tunnels feed the people, give them what they need and give us jobs."

Before the war smuggling through tunnels, which the UN said last year was so widespread that it amounted to an industry, was generating some 650 million dollars in cash each year.

Analysts estimate that at least two-thirds of the goods sold across the Gaza Strip come from the tunnels, and that they employ some 12,000 Palestinians from all over the territory. Gaza's unemployment rate, according to the UN, stood at 45 percent before the war. It is the highest in the world.


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