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Gaza tunnels buzz again despite strikes

Israel targeted tunnels again Wednesday with airstrikes.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 29, 2009

Gaza: A Palestinian inspected a tunnel Wednesday that runs under the border with Egypt. The work is perilous but lucrative.

Ahmad Khateib/NEWSCOM


Rafah, Gaza Strip

The white canopies that cover the entrances are like a welcome mat – to the land of the tunnels.

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Below the coverings, the Palestinian tunnel operators are back at work. At least, that is, those with businesses still intact after a brutal 22-day war with Israel.

They are in a both lucrative and perilous position. On the one hand, they make substantial earnings from the underground march of commerce that goes on between Rafah, the Gaza Strip's southernmost town, and Egypt, which has a border town by the same name.

On the other, the Palestinians who live and work here are some of the most likely targets of renewed Israeli bombing, despite a cease-fire that each side unilaterally declared 10 days ago.

Early Wednesday, the Israeli air force bombed smuggling tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border in response to the killing of an Israeli soldier a day earlier. The Israeli soldier had been patrolling the border of Gaza Tuesday on the Israeli side when he was hit in a remote-control bomb attack; three others were injured. Reuters reported that a little-known Islamist group claimed responsibility. Israel's Haaretz, sourcing Shin Bet [Israel's internal intelligence agency], said that the bomb had been planted by "a Hamas breakaway group identified with the Al-Qaida-affiliated Global Jihad."

Adding another fissure, Palestinian militants fired a rocket at Israel's western Negev region on Wednesday, causing no casualties. Both sides have rattled the fragile cease-fire.

About 90 percent of the tunnels in Rafah have been destroyed by Israeli air raids since the war began on Dec. 27, according to the men who make their livings in "tunnel town."

Of those damaged, many are already in the process of repair. Others went unscathed, though people here are not sure how long that will be the case.

"There is nothing to do but to rebuild them again," says Abu Ahmed, chief operator and part-owner of a tunnel here. Knowing that the tunnels remain high on Israel's hit list – Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Sunday that she supported bombing again – most here keep a low profile, reluctant to talk to journalists, give full names, or be photographed.

Abu Ahmed says he has approximately 30 partners who share the profits of running one successful tunnel. This one, like most others, looks like a well. But with a system of pulleys, it allows a tunnel runner to lower himself into the earth and head across the border.