Underground cattle trade thrives in Gaza tunnels

Tue Oct 21, 2008 10:12am EDT
 
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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (Reuters) - When the calves were hauled out of the tunnel from Egypt on Tuesday, they could hardly stand up.

After a terrifying, 1000 meter (yard) underground trip into the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, what the young cattle wanted most was a long drink of cool water.

Underground livestock smuggling has increased dramatically ahead of Eid Al-Adha, the day of sacrifice due December 10, when Muslims the world over slaughter animals and feed the poor to seek God's forgiveness.

"Even if we brought in animals every day we would not meet the demand for the Eid," said a tunnel operator who identified himself as Abu Luqaib.

Hundreds of Gaza merchants throng around the border area of Rafah every day to pick up merchandise coming to Gaza from Egypt via subterranean passages that have created a flourishing trade zone.

"It's an industrial zone here," said the 23-year-old tunnel operator as his crew pulled a bawling calf up the deep shaft by a simple rope around its middle. No livestock harness was used.

Gaza has suffered galloping unemployment since Israel tightened its blockade on the territory in 2007 to try to weaken its Palestinian rulers, Hamas, an Islamist group sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state.

Goods are scarce in Gaza markets because of Israeli restrictions on what Gaza may and may not import. The tunnel network handles all sorts of readily portable merchandise including fuel, automobile parts, computers and clothes.   Continued...

 
<p>A calf is hauled out by Palestinian smugglers from a tunnel beneath the Egyptian-Gaza border October 16, 2008. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa</p>