GAZA, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Hamas and other militant groups called on Egypt on Tuesday to stop building a steel wall along the Gaza border that could block tunnels through which goods and weapons are smuggled into the blockaded Palestinian enclave.
"Hamas sees the continued building of the wall as unjustified and it will bring catastrophe on the Palestinian people, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told a news conference, where the group and other factions urged Cairo to end the project.
Egyptian officials have said steel tubes were being placed in the ground at several points along the 14-km (8-mile)-long border, but they did not specify their purpose.
Palestinians fear a steel barrier, deep underground, would limit or end smuggling through hundreds of tunnels operating in defiance of a three-year-old Israeli-led blockade of the territory ruled by Hamas Islamists opposed to peace with Israel.
Last week, a Palestinian gunman fired at an Egyptian bulldozer at the border, causing damage but no injuries. Egypt rushed reinforcements to the scene and Hamas assured Cairo it would prevent any further such incidents, officials said.
Local residents said the gunman was involved in tunnel building and feared for his livelihood. Tunnellers have been making huge profits from smuggling food and many other items into the Gaza Strip.
Tunnel-builders said some 3,000 tunnels were operational before Israel launched a three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip a year ago, but only 150 were still functional following the conflict and subsequent Israeli air raids.
At least 500 Hamas supporters rallied along the border on Monday to condemn the building of the wall, prompting Egyptian soldiers on the other side of the frontier to take up positions behind sandbags.
Hamas security forces were also deployed at the border during the protest. (Editing by Alison Williams)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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