Gazan Civil Defense rescue teams on Tuesday morning were battling to save the lives of 14 Palestinians who went missing inside a smuggling tunnel when Egyptian military forces flooded it with seawater.
Muhammad al-Meidana, a Civil Defense official, told Ma’an that rescue teams had been able to save the lives of seven tunnel workers, but that contact was lost with 14 others, who were now missing.
Initial reports that the Civil Defense had established contact with these 14 workers turned out to be false. Smuggling tunnels that pass beneath the Egyptian border have served as a lifeline to the outside world for Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants since Israel imposed a crippling siege on the coastal enclave in 2007, which is supported by Egypt. While the tunnels are used by Hamas as a source of tax revenue and inflow of weapons, they also supply necessary goods for Gazans including food, medicine, as well as infrastructure materials including concrete and fuel.
Egypt has sought to destroy the tunnels as part of an ongoing security campaign in the northern Sinai against anti-regime militants, which Egypt accuses Hamas of supporting, although Hamas strongly denies the accusations. The smuggling tunnels are notoriously dangerous, and workers are frequently killed working inside them.