Gaza's Unseen Highway to Terror

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally aired September 16, 2008. - GAZA STRIP - Things may appear quiet in the Gaza Strip these days, but there's a lot of activity going on you can't see.

Members of the terror group Hamas, some of them children, are smuggling weapons and other goods around the clock in Gaza's tunnels.

A crew, hired by CBN News, visited a Gaza mansion -- just one of the portals to an underground smuggling highway used to transport explosives for future attacks on Israeli soldiers or civilians.

Young, barefoot Palestinians work harsh 12-hour shifts in the tunnels, some of which are fairly well constructed.

Though the US is spending millions of dollars to help Egypt shut down these tunnels, the smuggling continues, nearly unabated.

"We dig 20 to 35 meters [yards] in depth and 250 to 300 meters in length," said one tunnel owner. "With a compass, we can adjust our place, with guidance from the Egyptians," he said. "We open the hole to the Egyptian soil and bring the goods into Gaza," he said.

An electric winch helps pull the contraband -- explosives, drugs, cigarettes, and food packed in large bags - from the Egyptian end of the tunnel.

Phones in the tunnels allow smugglers, usually young men and sometimes kids, to find out what contraband is needed so it can be obtained and transported quickly to Gaza.

"I hire 15 to 30 year olds," the tunnel owner said. "I focus on people who weigh less. They move easily and have more energy," he said.

Mosa is 15 years old. If he didn't work in the tunnels, he would die from hunger, he said.

"We are asked to go through the tunnels to the Egyptian side. We deliver the money, get the goods and bring the goods back to Gaza," he said.

A 16-year-old Palestinian said the workers dig round the clock.

"We bring food, drink, clothes, gas and diesel," he said.

Gazans say the tunnels are needed because Israel frequently closes the border crossings. But Israel blames Hamas, which is committed to the destruction of the Jewish state.

Under pressure from Israel, Egypt has recently cracked down on the tunnel traffickers, who work all along Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip. Still, the weapons and contraband keep flowing in.

Last month, many people died in one tunnel when Egyptian border police used poison gas during a raid. Others were suffocated by fuel fumes from their own operation.

"We felt dizzy and fell down," said Mohammed Jaber, one of two young men who narrowly escaped death. "We tried to save them [our friends], but we could not," he said.

"My best friends died and I was not able to help them," said the second man, Mohammed Abu Zaid. "I will not work there anymore," he said.

Mohammed Shahin makes a good living smuggling cigarettes.

"Palestinian kids need money so they're not just willing to work in tunnels; they're also willing to dig graves," he said.

The tunnels are well hidden. The crew visited a place where kids were working in what looked like greenhouses, but the structures only disguised another tunnel.

One 12 year old said he makes about $10 for a grueling, 12-hour shift.

"I go nine meters deep and we walk underground for 400 meters," he said.

A 10-year-old child said he works for a different reason.

"I like to buy a cell phone and show off in front of other kids, buy clothes and buy my school supplies," he said.

Israel intelligence says the shipment of explosives in the tunnels has dropped, but small arms shipments are booming during the current cease-fire, which began June 19.

And as long as business is good, the traffickers will continue to profit from Gaza's young in their ongoing war against Israel.

*Original broadcast September 16, 2008.

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CBN News
John Waage

John Waage

CBN News - Jerusalem Bureau

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