Page last updated at 11:52 GMT, Wednesday, 7 January 2009

In pictures: Gaza's tunnel smugglers

A smuggler being lowered into the tunnel using a pulley system

Last October, UN officials said the construction and use of smuggling tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Egypt had grown to such an extent that it amounted to an industry.

A man carts away dug out soil from a tunnel

The UN said tunnels had become a lifeline because of the tight blockade on Gaza. Thousands of Palestinians owe their living to the tunnelling business in places like the border town of Rafah.

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.

A calf being smuggled into Gaza

Even animals make the journey through the tunnels, and not just livestock for Gaza's farms or dinner tables. Rafah boasts its own zoo, whose exhibits, including three young lions, have been smuggled in.

A smuggler uses a phone inside the tunnel

In September, the Hamas group which controls Gaza introduced regulations to license and control trade through the tunnels, even supplying phone and electricity connections.

A man passes goods through the tunnel

In addition to staple goods smuggled under the border, militant groups are also believed to have smuggled quantities of weapons into Gaza.

An Egyptian security officer shows off seized tunnel-building equipment

Egyptian police regularly seize tunnel-making equipment along the border with the Gaza Strip. Israel has accused Egypt of not doing enough to prevent the flow of weapons.

Tunnel smuggling equipment on sale in Rafah

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

Moments after Israeli bombardment along border between Egypt and Gaza

The smuggling tunnels have been heavily pounded by Israel during its bombardment of Gaza which began on 27 December. The Israeli military said it hit 40 tunnels in the first two days.

Crater left by Israeli bombing of Rafah tunnel

Many tunnels will have been put out of action, but as Rafah depends so heavily on illegal smuggling it seems unlikely that those who excavate them will give up their trade.



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