RAFAH, Gaza Strip — An Egyptian security crackdown has severely disrupted smuggling to the neighboring Gaza Strip, causing a fuel shortage, doubling the price of building materials and shutting down some construction sites in the Hamas-ruled territory.
Egypt’s military clamped down on the lawless Sinai Peninsula, which abuts Gaza, in the run-up to mass protests planned for Sunday by Egyptian opposition activists trying to force out the country’s president, Mohammed Morsi.
It’s not clear if the Sinai lockdown is temporary or signals a tougher security regime aimed at restricting smuggling through tunnels running under the Egypt-Gaza border in the long term. That would have a devastating effect on Gaza, which has relied on smugglers since Israel imposed a border blockade following the rise to power of the Islamic militant group Hamas in 2006.
“Nothing can get to the (tunnel) area,” said Abu Khaled, 44, a tunnel operator in Gaza. “We are like a dry lake now. … We all pray that this will end soon.”
Gaza has only small reserves of cement, steel and other materials for private construction. With few exceptions, Israel bans such goods for fear Hamas will divert them for military use.