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Gaza tunnels don't just run one way

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Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

(Read caption) A Palestinian smuggler lowers himself into a tunnel beneath the Egyptian- Gaza border in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Business has become so bad for Gaza's smuggler barons since Israel relaxed its blockade that tunnel traders have given up spiriting goods into the enclave, and some have even turned underground exporters.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

After Israel blockaded the Gaza Strip in 2007, the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border grew famous for supplying the Palestinian territory with everything from food to cars to weapons for militant groups.

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But business has dropped off since Israel eased the blockade in June by allowing food and consumer goods into Gaza, and tunnel owners have now turned to a new business tactic: exporting goods to Egypt.

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Tunnel owner Abu Mohamed says much of what is smuggled to Egypt is scrap metal and recyclable goods such as used car batteries.

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With inflation and food prices rising in Egypt, tunnel owners now also send Israeli food products under the border. Avocados, eggs, and chickens, and goats and cows for breeding purposes all traverse the subterranean passage. Other items such as blankets and particular brands of Israeli soap are also on the list. Asked why there is a demand for Israeli soap in Egypt, where soap is plentiful, Mr. Mohamed says with a grin, “They say it goes well with the water in El Arish,” an Egyptian border city.

Mohamed says that at the height of the blockade he made as much as $20,000 a day. When Israel began allowing more goods into Gaza this summer, his profits plummeted to $400 to $500 a day.