Business was booming for Gaza brick-maker Yasser Qreqea, until neighbouring Egypt shut down smuggling tunnels across its border that were funnelling arms to fighters in the territory and cement and other basic goods to everyone else.
Overnight the price of building materials soared in the Gaza Strip, hitting Qreqea’s key customers and, industry sources said, slowing the construction of apartments, roads and houses across the enclave run by Hamas Islamists.
Egypt said it started flooding and sealing the network of tunnels in February to cut a two-way flow of smuggled weapons that was destabilising its border area in the Sinai peninsula, where separate groups of Islamists operate.
Cairo’s decision also cut a lifeline to around 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza, hit by a blockade on a wide range of goods imposed by Israel in 2007 after Hamas took power.
The tunnels had been used to bypass the blockade and smuggle in all kinds of merchandise, including cars, livestock and fuel - around 30 per cent of all goods that reached the enclave, according to some estimates.
A month ago, a tonne of cement cost 350 shekels ($95) in the Gaza Strip. After the tunnel closures, the price rose to 650 shekels before Hamas pressured merchants to bring it down to its current 480 shekel mark.
“I have been speaking to contractors and I understood many of them have suspended building because of the unstable and higher prices of cement,” said Ali Al- ayek, chairman of the Palestinian Businessmen’s Association.