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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tunnels Under Gaza Become International Trading Routes

RAFAH, Gaza Strip -- Abu Mohammad's journey took a half-hour, but it seemed like the longest of his life.

The 22-year-old Palestinian was stranded in Egypt with hundreds of others after the militant group Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in June.

With the overland crossing closed, Abu Mohammad decided to go underground through one of dozens of tunnels that crisscross the frontier between Egypt and Gaza, run by gangs that smuggle everything, from weapons to people and contraband goods.

He paid a smuggler $4,000 to use his tunnel to go home, along with a cargo of bootleg cigarettes.

"It took me about half an hour to crawl back but I thought it was a year," said Abu Mohammad, who gave a false name because of his clandestine passage.

"I crawled on my stomach like a snake, I could not raise my head the whole time," he said.

"There has been an increase in demand, especially since June," said Abu Salman, a veteran tunnel builder. "Many other tunnels are being constructed."

Abu Salman said each tunnel was built with several shafts so that if one opening is blocked by Israeli forces raiding Gaza or by the Egyptians, smuggling can continue.

Now that Israeli forces have left their positions in the coastal territory, tunnel-diggers are able to break ground closer to the Egyptian frontier.

"We bring in cigarettes, car engines, fertilizer and medicine, including Viagra," said Abu Salman, 35.

The fertilizer, he said, can be used to make explosives.