Sources: Hamas arms smuggling never stopped during IDF op in Gaza
Amos Gilad heads to Egypt for talks on smuggling, truce; Bedouin from Sinai also involved in tunnels trade.
Although the Israel Air Force bombed the Phildelphi corridor along the border many times during the course of the Cast Lead campaign, smugglers acknowledge that some tunnels running under the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip have remained in use, and were in operation even during the fighting. Contrary to media reports, the Israeli air force apparently did not use more powerful bunker-busting bombs to destroy the tunnels, rather than regular explosives. Tunnels lined with wood reinforcement have been especially resistant to air force bombing raids.
Smugglers manage to transfer merchandise, drugs and weapons through tunnels dug under the Philadelphi corridor. According to residents of Rafah, the reinforced tunnels were even used during the Israeli military offensive to smuggle in a group of German doctors who wanted to provide medical care to Gaza residents. In addition to Palestinian smugglers, Bedouin from Sinai are also involved in the trade through the tunnels.
One of the Bedouin in the area insists that the smuggling will continue because they have no other way to earn a living. The Egyptian police operating in the area periodically blow up the Palestinian-built tunnels when they become aware of them, but they reportedly turn a blind eye to Bedouin subterranean smuggling routes.
One resident of the area claims that Egyptian President Mubarak knows not to mess with the Bedouin in Sinai because he knows that terrorist attacks in recent years at tourist hotels in the Sinai were not the work of Al-Qaida but of Bedouin. He claims that they were sending the Egyptian government a message that Egypt should drop a proposed plan to move Sinai Bedouin away from the border.
The Bedouin reportedly move around almost unhindered by the Egyptian police. In the face of prior attempts to limit their activity, the Bedouin rioted and even attack Egyptian police installations. Despite indications that the Egyptian police have frequently cooperated with the smugglers, sometimes in exchange for payments of money, local residents insist that when higher-ranking Egyptian police become aware of the tunnels, they rush to blow them up, preferring a professional promotion to a bribe.
Meanwhile, senior defense official Amos Gilad returns to Cairo on Thursday for talks on maintaining the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and preventing arms smuggling into Gaza.
A political source in Jerusalem on Wednesday said that Israel and Egypt will create a joint committee comprising defense and intelligence personnel to confront the arms smuggling. The committee may also include American and possibly European representatives.
Since the implementation of the cease-fire, the Egyptians have opened their border with the Gaza Strip to shipments of medical personnel and supplies as well as a limited number of foreign journalists, but they then hindered the entry of additional representatives of the foreign press who have been waiting at the border.
Even during the course of the fighting, Israel permitted Egyptian ambulances to enter Gaza.
One paramedic acknowledged that he didn't worry about being attacked by Israeli forces during the hostilities because their entry into Gaza was coordinated with Israel.
"We were more afraid of Hamas," he said, "because they might be angry at us because of the Egyptians' refusal to open their side of the border."
The Palestinians continue to press Egypt to expand access through the Rafah crossing. The Egyptians have also clamped down on expressions of Palestinian nationalism by Palestinian living on the Egyptian side of the border. Ironically, near the border on the Egyptian side, the houses tend to be somewhat larger and more elaborate. The relative wealth has been attributed to income from smuggling.