Five Palestinians Suffocate to Death After Egypt Blows Up Tunnel

Israel has repeatedly asked Egypt to clamp down on underground smuggling into Gaza.

Five Palestinians were killed and 18 wounded in a smuggling tunnel under the Gaza-Egypt border after Egyptian troops blew up the entrance, an Egyptian security official and Gaza hospital doctors said Saturday.

"The destruction of the entrance deprived those inside the tunnel of oxygen," said the Egyptian official, who is stationed at the border and spoke on customary condition of anonymity. Gaza hospital officials said the five died from lack of oxygen.

The tunnel entrance was destroyed late Friday, near the Gaza border town of Rafah.

A wide network of tunnels runs under the border and is used to bring supplies into Gaza. The territory has been virtually cut off from the world since June 2007 when Hamas seized control by force. Both Israel and Egypt have enforced the closure of Gaza.

Israel says Gazas Hamas rulers use the tunnel to bring in weapons and cash, and has urged Egypt to do more to stop the smuggling. In recent months, Egypt has begun cracking down on the smugglers. In the past week alone, Egypt has destroyed 14 tunnels, the Egyptian official said.

Since the beginning of the year, 27 Palestinians have been killed in tunnels, including the five killed late Friday.

Many Gazans use tunnels to bypass an Israeli blockade that was tightened after Hamas Islamists seized the coastal strip last year. Many of the tunnels are also used by militants to smuggle weapons from Egypt into Gaza.