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Gaza Pays 'Brutal' Price for Egypt's Military Assault in Sinai

Backed by Israel, offensive tightens siege, exacerbates fuel shortages, strands thousands

Sarah Lazare, staff writer

 Egyptian forces guard border between Egypt and Gaza. (Photo: Ali Ali / European Pressphoto Agency / September 10, 2013) Egypt's Israel-backed week-long military assault in the Sinai is once again further cutting off Gaza from the rest of the world—deepening shortages of gasoline and other goods and stranding thousands of Palestinians at the border, including many seeking medical care.

"The 1.7 million residents of the Gaza Strip are under a brutal form of collective punishment meted out by Israel and Egypt, preventing freedom of movement and imports and exports of goods," Josh Rubner of US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation told Common Dreams.

Egyptian forces have bombed over 40 tunnels connecting Gaza with Egypt in the past two weeks, in addition to hundreds others that have been sealed off since the Egypt's military-backed government took power. Hamas officials say there were approximately 600 tunnels before the takeover, and since late June 95 percent of the tunnels have been cut off.

These tunnels provide crucial conduits for nearly half of Gaza's fuel needed to keep hospitals and schools open and generator-fueled electricity running, in a densely-populated area already in the grips of a water crisis. When tunnels are cut off, only Israeli gas is available to many and at a price that is prohibitively expensive in an area beset with high unemployment and poverty.

The tunnels are also vital pipelines for the daily goods necessary to keep Gaza's beleaguered economy running, including construction materials as well as animal feed. “If the crisis in Egypt continues and the tunnels stay closed, we’re in real trouble,” Muhamed Musa, Gaza resident and owner of a farm supply store, told Bloomberg.

Yet, tunnels are not the only passageways being blocked. Following a bombing of Sinai intelligence headquarters, Egyptian forces shut down the Rafah border crossing on Wednesday, stranding thousands of people at one of Gaza's few above ground openings with the rest of the world. The crossing, which has been opened and closed according to shifting political tides, was initially shut down when the military-backed government first rose to power, then partially reopened for a brief period of time.

The Israeli government has worked closely with the military-backed Egyptian government to build up military presence in the Sinai, adding drone attacks and surveillance to assaults from Egyptian police and military forces, citing threats from 'militants.'

Critics say that these developments are deepening the human rights nightmare in Gaza caused by the Israeli blockade. "Close military collaboration between Israel and Egypt has stepped up in aftermath of Egypt's military coup," Rubner told Common Dreams. "It is within that context we are seeing tightening of the siege of Gaza."


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