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Smugglers find new ways to bring drugs into Gaza

Smugglers in the Gaza Strip are using new and unconventional methods to bring in narcotics hidden inside various goods, as local authorities struggle to stop them amid lack of equipment due to the Israeli siege.
A member of the Hamas security forces sets fire to a pile of confiscated bars of hashish and analgesic pills.

Using new and unconventional methods, drug dealers in the Gaza Strip are becoming more active in bringing narcotics of all kinds and forms into the coastal enclave by smuggling them inside medical ointments, shoes, clothes, fruit, fish, potato chip bags and other goods, which makes their discovery by security forces difficult. 

Smugglers have always used innovative and new methods to smuggle drugs into the Gaza Strip. In 2017, 321 hashish packs were seized by Gazan authorities in Rafah after they were found in containers packed with Nile tilapia fish coming from Egypt.

Most recently, on Oct. 20, the Anti-Narcotics Department in Gaza announced that it had thwarted a narcotics smuggling attempt through the Kerem Shalom crossing in the southern Gaza Strip hidden inside a clothes shipment. When searching the shipment, 4,000 Captagon pills were seized.

On Feb. 9, the Crossings and Ports Unit of the Anti-Narcotics Department foiled another attempt to smuggle narcotics hidden in shoe soles into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Anwar Zorob, deputy director of the General Administration of the Anti-Narcotics Department in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “Israel’s ban on the entry [into Gaza] of modern equipment to detect narcotic substances led to an increase in drug smuggling operations of all kinds through land and sea crossings with the Gaza Strip, specifically through the Kerem Shalom crossing in the south.”

Zorob said that the “Kerem Shalom crossing poses the biggest challenge for the anti-drug police, as it is the first source of smuggling narcotics into Gaza, as drugs are carefully hidden among various goods, including clothes, car spare parts, shoes, furniture, fruits and legumes, because that makes them difficult to detect.”

He pointed out that “the police rely on the traditional and manual inspection of goods coming through the crossing, in addition to the use of trained police dogs, as the Israeli siege prevents the entry of X-ray devices, which can help detect narcotic substances that are hidden among these goods.”

Zorob explained that “hashish and Captagon tablets, known locally as Rotana pills, are among the most narcotic substances that are smuggled into Gaza and the most popular.” 

He noted that “the establishment [in January] of the Supreme Criminal Chamber for major crimes in Gaza has deterred [to some extent] drug dealers and traders after painful sentences were pronounced against them.”

In 2013, the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza approved the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law, which includes severe penalties, including the death penalty, in a bid to end drug smuggling and use. 

In October 2021, the military court affiliated with the Ministry of Interior in Gaza issued 13 sentences against drug dealers and traders, including one death sentence, three life sentences with hard labor, and nine temporary hard labor sentences ranging in duration from 10 to 18 years, on charges of bringing in and trafficking narcotics.

Ahmed al-Shaer, director of the Crossings and Ports Unit at the Anti-Narcotics Department, claimed that Israeli authorities aren't interested in helping Gaza with the equipment and means needed to crack down on smuggling. 

He indicated that “drug dealers are taking advantage of the large numbers of trucks loaded with goods coming to the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing, which exceed 500 trucks per day, to hide drugs inside those goods in unconventional and unfamiliar ways that are difficult for anti-drug personnel to detect.”

Shaer added, “All the land crossings with the Israeli occupation are used to smuggle narcotics, whether through the Kerem Shalom crossing, which is considered the most used route for smuggling of drugs, or the Beit Hanoun-Erez crossing, which is used for the movement of individuals, in addition to smuggling across the maritime border with Egypt.”

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