Military source: Egypt destroyed at least 60 tunnels along Gaza border

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Palestinian female supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) sit next of damaged building during a protest against the delay in acquiring building material in front of the United Nations office in Gaza city on December 7, 2014. AFP / Mahmud Hams

Published Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A military source in the Sinai said Monday that Egyptian border guards have destroyed over 60 smuggling tunnels along the Gaza borders since October 28.

The news comes as a prominent human rights organization slammed Israel’s summer assault on the Gaza Strip in a report, accusing the Zionist state of having committed war crimes.

The source told Ma’an news agency that a tunnel 1,500 meters long was uncovered on the Egyptian side of the border town of Rafah, and was placed under guard to be destroyed soon.

The official added that seven tunnels were uncovered outside of the buffer zone, five of which are 2,000 meters long. The other two are 1,500 and 1,750 meters long.

Gaza’s construction sector faced a hard hit in November when Egypt decided to create a one kilometer-deep buffer strip along the border by clearing more than 800 houses, displacing more than 1,100 families, and destroying and neutralizing hundreds of subterranean tunnels.

The creation of the buffer zone and the destruction of tunnels have stoked resentment, as many Sinai residents rely on smuggling goods through the tunnels for their livelihoods. But the Egyptian government claims that the tunnels are used to smuggle arms from the Gaza Strip to militants in Sinai.

For years, the Gaza Strip has depended on a network of tunnels linking its to Egypt’s Sinai to smuggle construction materials into the territory.

As the coastal enclave struggle to recover from the summer onslaught that turned thousands of its houses into tons of rubbles, the Ministry of Housing and Public Works in Gaza began last week with the reconstruction phase.

However, Israel routinely bars the entry of building materials into the Strip on grounds that Palestinian resistance faction Hamas could use them to build underground tunnels or fortifications.

A deal negotiated between the Palestinian Authority, UNRWA and Israel to rebuild Gaza includes contracts with Israeli companies, which will benefit financially from the reconstruction of buildings destroyed by Israeli forces.

According to the UN, as many as 80,000 Palestinians homes were damaged or destroyed during the days of hostilities, a higher figure than was previously thought, and more than 106,000 of Gaza's 1.8 million residents have been displaced to UN shelters and host families.

For 51 days this summer, Israel pounded the Gaza Strip by air, land and sea. More than 2,160 Gazans, mostly civilians, were killed and 11,000 injured during seven weeks of unrelenting Israeli attacks in July and August.

Amnesty accuses Israel of war crimes during Gaza war

Human rights monitor Amnesty International accused on Tuesday the Israeli military of committing war crimes during its Gaza offensive this summer, calling for an investigation.

The destruction of four multi-story buildings during the last four days of the 50-day war were in breach of international humanitarian law, the group said in a report.

"All the evidence we have shows this large-scale destruction was carried out deliberately and with no military justification," said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa program.

Evidence including statements by the Israeli military at the time indicate the attacks were "a collective punishment against the people of Gaza" designed to destroy their livelihoods, Luther added.

One of the landmark buildings destroyed was the Municipal Commercial Center in Rafah, which contained a shopping mall, a medical clinic and offices, and provided livelihoods for hundreds of families, the Amnesty International report said.

Residents of the buildings about to be destroyed were warned to leave by the Israeli military, but they did not have time to salvage important belongings, it added.

Scores of people from nearby buildings were injured, and hundreds lost their homes, according to the rights group.

Israeli authorities had claimed that one building housed a command center of the Islamist resistance movement Hamas, and that another had "facilities linked to Palestinian militants," according to the report.

However, Luther said the military still "had an obligation to choose means and methods of attack that would minimize harm to civilians and their property."

"The Israeli army have previously conducted airstrikes on specific apartments in high-rise buildings without their complete destruction," he added.

The rights group said it had sent its findings about the airstrikes to Israeli authorities with questions about why each attack was carried out, but had not received an adequate response. The authorities also refused to cooperate with a UN inquiry into possible war crimes during the conflict, accusing it of bias.

The report called for Amnesty International and other rights groups to be allowed access to Gaza and for the UN inquiry to be allowed "to conduct its investigation without hindrance."

The Israeli army has launched a series of criminal investigations into incidents in the war, including the shelling of a UN school that medics said killed at least 15 people and the bombing of a beach where four children died.

Critics, however, have said that the investigations by Israel will not be independent.

"War crimes must be independently and impartially investigated and those responsible should be brought to justice in fair trials," Luther said.

(Ma’an, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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