A Wednesday article by the New York Times has once again provoked the ire of Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, whose spokesperson has said the paper tried to “obfuscate reality” in its coverage about Gazan border smugglers.
In a post published on the ministry’s official blog Friday, spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid said the newspaper seeks to make the reader sympathise with the smugglers, who have long brought goods in to the besieged Gaza Strip through tunnels with the Egyptian border.
“By falsely referring to this phenomenon as ‘trade’, rather than illicit smuggling across an international border, which is what this really is, the NYT is trying to obfuscate reality, giving a veneer of legitimacy to what is essentially an illegal practice condemned by international and domestic law,” said Abu Zeid.
With Egypt and Israel effectively keeping their borders closed, the isolated and impoverished region has relied on the tunnels for goods, from basic products to automobiles.
Only around 20 of 250 tunnels are still functioning, the smugglers tell the New York Times, after being hit by the Egyptian army’s tactics of the flooding of the border area and the establishment of a buffer zone on the Egyptian side. “From the beginning with Sisi, it was 50 percent hard,” one smuggler told the US newspaper. “Now it is 90 percent hard. It will be 100 percent hard when they turn on the pumps.”
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s government has tied the insecurity of the border with the Palestinian territory to the wider fight against militant groups in Egypt, saying that the tunnels allow for the passage of weapons and fighters. Relations with the ruling authority Hamas have also strained as due to its links with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
Despite the military’s successful crackdown on the tunnelling, Egypt has not eased up on the tight border policy it puts in place on the Rafah border crossing. It allowed, however, 2,400 Palestinian Muslims passage to perform the Hajj pilgrimage in recent weeks.
Speaking to Daily News Egypt on Wednesday, senior member of Hamas and media spokesperson Mushir Al-Masri reiterated denials that his movement has any political or military involvement in North Sinai’s insecurity.
“The main border with Egypt has been closed for months, open only for a few days at a time. Recently they let some pilgrims through, but tens of thousands of people are awaiting travel for reasons such as medical care and education,” Al Masri said. “Egypt’s security procedures have closed off any outlet or passage to the trapped Palestinian people.”
However, spokesperson Abu Zeid denies Egypt’s effects and puts the blame for Gaza’s embattled situation squarely on the “persistent Israeli blockade”, which he said is a failure of its responsibilities as an occupying power.
Abu Zeid highlighted Egypt’s hosting of the 2014 “Reconstructing Palestine” conference that raised $5.4bn in donations after the Strip’s conflict with Israeli last year, though local officials say little of that aid has been delivered.
The top spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ most caustic criticism however is to say that the US newspaper is calling for a collapse of law in Egypt: “This article proves, once again, that the NYT’s biased reporting is intent on discrediting Egypt’s image in any possible way, for any possible reason… [but] this time the paper has gone a step further, advocating what would amount to a situation of lawlessness and chaos.”