Egyptian soldiers in Rafah, Gaza
Egyptian soldiers in Rafah, GazaAbed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90

The Egyptian army has destroyed 69 tunnels along the border with Gaza since March 28, an Egyptian army spokesman said Saturday, according to the Ma’an news agency.

The spokesman, Muhammad Samir, said that Egyptian border forces stationed in the Egyptian side of Rafah had discovered and destroyed the tunnels in coordination with army engineers.

Last month Samir had said the army destroyed 194 tunnels between February 1 and March 19, and another statement at the end of March said that 22 tunnels had been destroyed between March 20 and 27.

The latest 69 puts the total number of tunnels destroyed at 285 since February.

Also in late March, Egyptian border guards said they had uncovered a 2.8 kilometer-long tunnel near the Gaza border, which they claimed was the longest tunnel uncovered between Egypt and Gaza since the start of operations near the border to crack down on smuggling.

Earlier this month, the Egyptian Cabinet approved a draft resolution criminalizing the act of tunnel-digging along Egyptian borders with the punishment of life imprisonment. President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is reportedly seeking the death penalty for anyone convicted of digging tunnels into Gaza.

Egypt has been cracking down on the smuggling tunnels as part of an ongoing security campaign in the northern Sinai against terrorists launching attacks on Egyptian police and military personnel.

After a bombing killed more than 30 Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai in October 2014, the military stepped up the campaign to build a buffer zone along the border, as it accused Hamas of supporting the group that carried out the attack, which Hamas has strenuously denied.

The buffer zone was initially planned to be 500 meters wide, but Egypt later decided to expand it by another 500 meters.

The ongoing tensions between the Egyptian government and Hamas deepened further last month when an Egyptian court declared Hamas’s “military wing” a terrorist group.

Senior Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouk said that the Egyptian ruling against the Al-Qassam Brigades “is a coup against the history, ethics of Egypt and its principles.”