As part of the ongoing war against terror and its infrastructure, IDF infantry, armor, and engineering forces began operating last night in the city of Rafah, near the Israel-Egypt border, to uncover weapon smuggling tunnels and arrest wanted Palestinians. BPI.
IDF forces took up positions in the city and carried out searches of buildings suspected of concealing weapon smuggling tunnels. It should be noted that such tunnels are mainly hidden in the houses of Palestinian residents. During the operation, an exchange of fire erupted, in which an IDF soldier was wounded. The wounded soldier received first aid on the scene, and was transported to a hospital for further treatment. In addition, during the operation, terrorists detonated dozens of explosives, hurled dozens of grenades, fired anti-tank missiles, and shot a number of times at IDF forces from buildings in the area. Since the beginning of the current armed conflict, the city of Rafah has been used a focal point for the smuggling of weapons to the Gaza Strip, and has been the site of dozens of daily events involving explosive devices. Since the beginning of the year, IDF forces have uncovered some 30 weapon smuggling tunnels along the Israel-Egypt border. Since the beginning of the current armed conflict, IDF forces have discovered some 70 weapon smuggling tunnels. IDF forces will do their utmost to avoid causing harm to innocent Palestinian residents not involved in terror. Weapons Smuggled Into The Gaza Strip Since January 2003 Since January 2003, large amounts of diverse weapons have been smuggled into the Gaza Strip, including: Dozens of RPG rockets and lauchers Hundreds of kilograms of explosives Hundreds of rifles (mainly AK-47 Kalashnikovs) Tens of thousands of bullets and other ammunition Thousands of cartridges Note: Efforts are being made to smuggle in more advanced kinds of weapons. General Background The Oslo Accords, signed in 1994-1995, granted the Palestinian Authority control over most of the Gaza Strip. The agreements specify that the IDF will continue to control a narrow strip between the area under Palestinian control and the border with Egypt, called the „Philadelphi Route.” On both sides of the route are the towns of Palestinian Rafah and Egyptian Rafah. During the ensuing years, the area has been used for smuggling, and rapidly became the main pipeline for transporting weapons and ammunition into the Gaza Strip. The smuggled weapons are then transferred to the rest of the Gaza Strip, comprising the majority of the weaponry in the Gaza Strip, which is then used for carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers. Currently, the area is used for smuggling weapons, drugs, goods and lately, human beings. The City of Rafah The smuggling business began in Rafah during the 1980’s, due to the city’s economic condition and geographic location. The smuggling is carried out mainly through tunnels dug under the border – while in the past smuggling took place overland as well. Parallel to the smuggling industry in the area, the extremist Islamic infrastructure also developed, which increased the involvement of the residents in terrorist and smuggling activity. The economic element comprises an important factor in channeling local residents and families into the weapons and ammunition smuggling industry. During this period, a large-scale smuggling industry developed in Rafah. This industry comprises a primary source of income for entire families, and is the main source of income in the area. Due to the lucrative economic aspects of this industry, a power struggle has been raging between different clans and tribes over control of the smuggling. The Process of Constructing Tunnels The method of tunnel construction is complex and has evolved numerous times throughout the years. Currently, the construction of tunnels is overseen by Palestinian residents of Rafah who have specialized in this area over the years. The smugglers in Rafah are now experts in digging tunnels and smuggling weapons. The smugglers participate in this activity in all its aspects. The smugglers transport weapons for terrorist organizations, or for other elements who order firearms in exchange for money, and transfer money to Palestinians and Egyptians who own the house or land while the tunnel is dug. These people are adapt at how to avoid detection of the tunnels, thus they build them in residential areas and use small children to construct the tunnels and smuggle the weapons. Steps for Building a Weapon Smuggling Tunnel 1) Locate a landowner who agrees to provide his house for the exit of a tunnel. 2) Search for a suitable opening for the tunnel on the Egyptian side. The tunnel opening should be located in a house or within private property, to: allow the owner of the house to cross from one side to the other; to keep in accordance with agreements reached with Egyptian officials; for economic reasons, and to prevent discovery of the tunnel by Egyptian officials. 3) Choosing an engineer: An engineer who specializes in the excavations of tunnels is chosen. The engineer mobilizes and recruits individuals to construct the tunnel, and provides electric and hand-held tools for the job. 4) Duration of the excavation: The duration of the excavation may last anywhere from two weeks to two months based on the following conditions: The number of workers digging Excavation equipment Depth and length of the tunnel Width of the tunnel Instructions for Exacavating the Tunnel: 1. Secrecy: Ensure that the building area of the tunnel construction remains secret. Do not allow members of any other family or clan to discover the tunnel. 2. Work at night: To guarantee that the tunnel is not discovered, and to conceal excavation activity from the IDF. 3. Transporting tunnel material: Transport the sand (from the excavation activity) away from the site in a vehicle. Smuggling Methods: 1. Egyptian smugglers leave the merchandise at the entrance to the tunnel and depart. 2. Palestinian smugglers cross to the Egyptian side of the tunnel, and transport weapons and other merchandise to the Palestinian side. 3. Subsequent to the use of the tunnel, the subterranean passage is concealed to prevent discovery. Part II: Activity Carried Out by Terrorist Organizations and Their Relationship with the Palestinian Authority The Hamas 1. The Hamas terrorist organization utilizes the Rafah area to arm its members throughout the Gaza Strip. This effort is aided by senior Hamas members and terrorist organizations in various countries – who transport weapons throughout the Gaza Strip via the Rafah tunnels. 2. Hostile terrorist activity against IDF forces in the area. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine 1. During the current armed conflict, the PFLP has smuggled weapons and explosives to the Gaza Strip. 2. This effort is aided by Iranian official, as part of Iranian efforts to to bolster the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. As part of the above-mentioned effort, Iranian officials have smuggled weapons to the PFLP, and maintain close contact with supporters based in Egypt. The Involvement of the Palestinian Authority in the Current Armed Conflict 1. The Palestinian Authority has aided in the above-mentioned terrorist activity since the beginning of the current armed conflict. 2. For example, the Palestinian Authority has encouraged residents to conceal tunnels in their residences, which results in the demolition of their houses. 3. Today, however, the demolition of a house in which a tunnel has been uncovered, brings with it an ample windfall, as well as the construction of a new house – built of concrete in the neighborhood of Tel-Sultan by the Palestinian Authority. As a result, residents have even begun to construct fictious tunnels, and spread rumors about tunnels located under their houses in order to receive compensation from the Palestinian Authority after their home is demolished. Thus, the Palestinian Authority encourages the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip. 4. During the entire cease-fire period, the Palestinian Authority failed to deal with the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip, as it should have. This smuggling, during the cease-fire, served to arm the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip and strengthen the terrorist infrastructure in the area. Palestinian Authority Activity to Re-Arm During the current armed conflict, the Palestinian Authority itself, through the „Re-armament Network,” has been active in smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip via tunnels. Part III: IDF Activity During the past year and a half, IDF forces have acted forcefully to prevent smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip. The Wall In order to create a continuous cover of observation and fire, and as well as a physical blockade, a wall was errected. As part of the wall, the Termit and Hardon outposts were established. Targeted Activity to Uncover and Demolish Tunnels During 2003, the IDF has uncovered and demolished 36 tunnels (specified later on) as well as a large number of houses and buildings from where the tunnels emerged. Summary Parallel to the process whereby the demolition of houses in which smuggling tunnels have been uncovered, provides financial compensation, there are those Palestinians who reject the digging of the tunnels both from houses they own or from neighboring houses. BPI.