GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas marine forces in Gaza foiled an attempt by residents to smuggle a car from Egypt on Monday, a police spokesman said, signaling a new area of illicit trade as the Egyptian army cracks down on border tunnels.
The case showed the new lengths local smugglers will go to bring goods to market despite years of an Israeli blockade and sour relations between Egypt’s military-backed government and the Islamist group that runs Gaza.
Two Gazan smugglers carried the car, a dismantled Hyundai Sonata, on a fishing boat and sailed through the coastal enclave’s waters before being intercepted by coastal forces, Gaza police spokesman Ayoub Abu Sha‘ar said.
The two smugglers tried to jettison their cargo, sped away from their pursuers and eventually jumped ship. They were rescued and detained by police divers who spent 10 hours bringing the car parts to the shore.
“We will maintain our borders and any attempt by any people to violate will be followed up and chased,” Abu Sha‘ar said.
Since the overthrow of Egypt’s elected Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July, Egyptian security forces have sealed and destroyed most of the 1,200 tunnels that used to bring food, cars and weapons into Gaza.
Hamas largely condoned and had oversight over cross-border tunnel smuggling.
Bringing in cars through the tunnels was a semi-legal trade as they were legally bought from Egyptian companies, carried on trucks and then driven into Gaza.
The car being smuggled in by sea may have been stolen, not purchased. Hamas has said it would not allow smuggling by sea.
Hamas officials said Egypt’s closure of tunnels had caused a severe economic crisis in Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, slowed construction, caused sharp fuel and power shortages and led to hike in prices.
Relations between Hamas and Egypt’s new rulers have been tense. Cairo accuses the Islamist faction of meddling in its affairs on behalf of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, an ally of Hamas - an allegation Hamas rejects.
Israel allows car imports into Gaza but at higher prices and often with daunting bureaucratic hurdles it attributes to security concerns.
An Israeli military spokesman said smuggling by sea had increased recently and Israel was determined to prevent the movement of weapons.
Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Angus MacSwan