Page last updated at 15:50 GMT, Thursday, 16 October 2008 16:50 UK

In pictures: Gaza's tunnel smugglers

A smuggler being lowered into the tunnel using a pulley system

UN officials say the construction and use of smuggling tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Egypt has grown to such an extent that it now amounts to an industry.

A man carts away dug out soil from a tunnel

According to the UN, the many tunnels have become a lifeline for Gaza, because of Israel's blockade on the territory's borders. The tunnels employ thousands of Palestinians.

Cigarette packages piled up and ready for sale

The tunnels are used to smuggle a wide variety of products into Gaza - including cigarettes, food, fuel, fridges and clothes which are for sale in the border town of Rafah.

African lion cubs are inside a cage at the Heaven of Birds and Animals Zoo in Rafah

Rafah even boasts its own zoo - called the Heaven of Birds and Animals - whose exhibits are almost entirely animals smuggled across or under the border by intrepid tunnellers.

A smuggler uses a phone inside the tunnel

Last month, Hamas authorities in Gaza introduced regulations to license and control trade through the tunnels, even supplying phone and electricity connections.

An Egyptian security officer shows off seized tunnel-building equipment

Egyptian police regularly seize tunnel-making equipment along the border with the Gaza Strip near the Rafah crossing.

Tunnel smuggling equipment on sale in Rafah

But on the Gaza side of the border, in Rafah town, the equipment is readily available from street traders who sell their wares out of wheelbarrows.

A man passes goods through the tunnel

Israel says the tunnels are also used to import arms. It has repeatedly criticised Egypt for not doing enough to stop the smuggling.

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