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Reporter Calls Gaza's Tunnels 'Rudimentary'


More now on those tunnels in southern Gaza that Mike mentioned along the border with Egypt. Israel says Hamas has used hundreds of tunnels as conduits for weapons as well as other supplies. Reporter Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor got a close-up view of one of those tunnels, and he joins us now. And Dan, this was, what, about a year ago, I guess, you actually crawled partway through one of these tunnels from the Palestinian side.

Mr. DAN MURPHY (Reporter, Christian Science Monitor): Almost exactly a year ago. And again, tunnel is sort of a grand word. I mean, these are really very rudimentary affairs in very sandy soil. They open one up and use it for a few weeks or months. It collapses or perhaps gets bombed by the Israelis, or the Egyptian police decide to stop turning a blind eye to that location, and they make another one. So, that stretch of the border between Egypt and Gaza is riddled. You know, it's like giant ants are constantly tunneling in that whole area.


BLOCK: Oh, well, describe what it was like to drop down into this tunnel?

Mr. MURPHY: Well, it was probably one of the dumber things that I've done because, again, they don't have any supports in these things. It's about two feet high, maybe a little bit shy of that. You're crawling. You're cramped. Every time your head bumps the top of it, there's sand collapsing on your head. So when you hear about the tunnels being destroyed by air power, as we've been hearing in the past few days, that's not a very difficult thing to do. You know, any sort of bomb in those general areas will probably collapse a lot of those tunnels.

BLOCK: And how long are they?

Mr. MURPHY: They run about, I would say, half a mile at maximum. I mean, really, they are not very long under the border, although they do extend both inside Gaza sometimes to come out in houses, although that isn't always the case. And they also extend further into Egypt into a grove of trees or somewhere where it's less obvious that they're doing what they're doing because when these things are open, they're moving tons of goods through these things - cigarettes, maybe weapons, you know, everything from milk to illicit booze to chocolate wafers goes through these things.

BLOCK: You say maybe weapons. But Israel has been quite emphatic that weapons are absolutely coming through shipped from Iran and from Syria.


Mr. MURPHY: Well, I do want to emphasize that I haven't been there in quite some time. It's possible that this has changed. But after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah, they took all Fatah's weapons which had been supplied by the U.S. more or less in Egypt. So, a lot of the tunnel smugglers at that time were telling me that unfortunately, as far as they're concerned, they're just businessmen. They're capitalists red in tooth and claw, that the gun business wasn't a good business anymore. Gaza quite simply was awash in weapons and they were shifting to other uses. I'm sure that a lot of explosives do move in and out of those tunnels from Egypt that are used to make the rockets that are fired in Israel, and so forth. But I do think that the level of weapons that are coming through those tunnels and the notion that if those tunnels are shut, there would be no weapons in Gaza is at best overstated.

BLOCK: Dan, what did you learn about how these tunnels are dug and where they're actually digging to on the other side, on the Egypt side?

Mr. MURPHY: Well, I mean, they're digging to, I mean, areas that have people all over them. Lots of folks on both sides of that border, just like, you know, any sort of Mexican border town in the U.S., are highly relying on that trait. The tunnel operations themselves are usually gangs of, you know, 10 to 15 guys working. It's hand digging. They have pails on winches to take the sand out as they get deeper and deeper. Usually, I think they can put a tunnel in, I think, in a couple of months or faster. And that's why when anybody talks about, you know, definitively closing the quote, unquote, "tunnels," this isn't like bombing the Holland Tunnel, you know, in New York and then not having it be rebuilt for years. They can reconstruct these things very quickly.

BLOCK: Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor, thanks very much.

Mr. MURPHY: Oh, my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.