Gas used to kill smugglers
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - Egyptian forces pumped gas into a cross-border tunnel used to smuggle goods into the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, killing four Palestinians, Hamas officials said.
Egypt has been under pressure to seal off the hundreds of tunnels that are a key economic lifeline for the blockaded Palestinian territory but which are also used to bring in weapons for the Islamic militant group.
Israel and Egypt have kept Gaza's official border crossings closed since Hamas seized control of the coastal strip in 2007 from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who now only governs in the West Bank.
A Hamas security official in charge of the tunnel area along the border said the Egyptians filled the passage with some type of crowd dispersal gas. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give his name.
The Hamas Interior Ministry later said in a statement the gas used to try to clear the tunnel was poisonous. Besides those killed, six people were injured, it said.
"The Interior Ministry confirms that the citizens' cause of death was the Egyptian security forces spraying poison gasses into one of the tunnels," the statement said without elaborating.
A doctor at a hospital in the Gaza border town of Rafah, Hamdan Abu Latifa, said the dead smugglers suffocated.
An Egyptian border security official refused to comment Wednesday.
Egyptian security forces have sprayed gas into tunnels before, according to Hamas officials and tunnel operators. But Wednesday's incident was the first time people have died as a result, they said.
A Hamas official demanded an explanation.
"This is a terrible crime committed by Egyptian security against simple Palestinian workers who were trying to earn their daily bread," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum to The Associated Press. "It was a killing in cold blood. Hamas and all the Palestinian people condemn it strongly."