Cigarette Smuggling Cripples Aid Delivery in Gaza, With Packs Selling for $25 Each

June 20, 2024 by No Comments

The Wall Street Journal reported that the high price of tobacco in Gaza, reaching as much as $25 per cigarette, has fueled a cigarette smuggling industry that now poses a threat to United Nations aid convoys.

Criminal gangs have discovered ways to smuggle cigarettes into Gaza as contraband alongside humanitarian aid. In one incident last week, a group of Palestinian men demanded access to a U.N. warehouse to retrieve a shipment of cigarettes they knew was stored there.

This smuggling activity adds to the existing dangers faced by aid convoys in Gaza, which have already experienced incidents that have brought their operations to a standstill.

The demand for cigarettes skyrocketed in early May following the Israeli military’s seizure of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. The closure of this border to nearly all trade effectively halted the regular flow of tobacco products into Gaza.

As a result, individuals began exploiting the opportunity to smuggle cigarettes into the region through aid packages arriving from various parts of the world.

The escalating risks have prompted aid organizations to cease deliveries beyond the Gaza border. According to the Journal, over 1,000 truckloads of aid remain stranded just inside Gaza’s territory at the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel.

“This situation threatens to undermine everything we’re attempting to accomplish,” a U.N. official told the news outlet.

In an attempt to facilitate aid delivery, the Biden administration initiated the construction of a pier on the Gaza coast last month. However, the project faced setbacks as weather conditions rendered the pier unusable within days of its completion.

On June 10, the U.N. announced it would suspend food distribution at the pier due to security concerns. The U.S. had invested approximately $320 million in the construction of this facility.

In early June, rocket attacks targeted two warehouses storing aid delivered to the pier, contributing to the suspension of deliveries. The Biden administration has stated its commitment to the ongoing maintenance of the pier.