World Bulletin / News Desk
Egypt's crackdown on tunnels along its border with the Gaza Strip is making shortages ever tighter and has forced the Gaza rulers to consider urgent alternatives.
Gaza officials asked Egypt late on Monday to consider alternative trade routes, such as a free trade zone, a direct deal that could boost tax revenues in the Israel-besieged Gaza.
Egypt started closing the tunnels after the Aug. 5 attack in Sinai when gunmen killed 16 Egyptian soldiers.
On Saturday, hundreds protested at the Gaza border, demanding that Cairo stop sealing tunnels, chanting: "Closing the tunnels is a death sentence for Gaza."
Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza since 2007.
Last year Egypt allowed more people to cross at the border with Gaza in the town of Rafah but it is used only for travel, not goods. Officially, goods enter Gaza only through Israel.
Maher Al-Tabbaa, a Gaza-based economist, said that 30 percent of Gaza's goods come from the tunnels. Tunnellers say 80 percent of food sold in Gaza comes through the tunnels.
"If tunnels are closed there will be a complete collapse in Gaza. It would suffer an economic catastrophe," he said.
"The tunnel business is drying up and Egyptian security forces are working day and night to seal the tunnels. In one area along the border 180 tunnels have been closed," tunnel owner Abu Abdallah told Reuters.
He said that the clampdown had led to a rise in food prices in the territory and that construction materials such as cement and steel had also become more expensive.
"The construction boom in Gaza will come to a halt soon as all tunnels that used to bring in gravel have been blocked by Egyptian security," said Abdallah, who employs 40 people.
Ali, a tunneller for the past five years, said the import of building materials was becoming impossible because Egyptian suppliers were raising their prices, while Hamas was not allowing them to follow suit.
"A tonne of cement now costs 400 shekels (about $100) but Hamas forces us to sell at 370 shekels, which means I will lose even before paying the workers who pull the goods through the tunnel," Ali told Reuters.
"I and many others have stopped working because Hamas regulations do not take our losses into account," he said.
Jihad Abu El-Kass, whose family owns a Gaza City supermarket, said dairy products were in short supply.
Hamas officials have urged Egypt to allow Rafah crossing to be used for goods also.
Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, mooted setting up a free trade area between Gaza and Egypt at a meeting on Monday night with Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, a Hamas government official told Reuters from Cairo.
"We explained the concept in detail ... the idea is to alleviate the economic hardship in Gaza," Taher al-Nono said.
An Egyptian official told Reuters that the proposal was made at the meeting but that it was too early for a response.
Former statistics chief is charged with falsifying data that laid groundwork for controversial Greek bailout
Sadiq Khan makes first international visit since he came to office in May to Paris
New figures show immigration to Britain dipped ahead of EU referendum but remained far above government targets
Council of State will issue ruling on controversial bans within 48 hours
UK politician's criticism comes as Scottish police reveal plans to incorporate hijab into uniform
Qayyara is a strategically important area for Iraqi forces planning to capture Mosul
Abu Zubayda, who the CIA admitted it had waterboarded and who has never been charged with a crime, appears for first time in 14 years at quasi-parole hearing
The CIA has declassified foreign intelligence briefings it gave President Nixon in the 1970s
Ennahda is the largest party in the 217-seat Tunisian parliament with 69 members
Kayed was placed under administrative detention for six months after he completed a 14.5-year prison sentence for his alleged work with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Police chiefs, in order to boost the number of Muslim women in the police force, want to make the force 'representative of the communities we serve'
Four-year talks result in deal to end decades of deadly conflict
Kenya struck oil for first time in northeastern Turkana county in 2012
Just weeks after a failed coup, Turkey's entry wins support from leading European countries
Move reflects diversity of Canada, encourages Muslims to join RCMP