Israel-Gaza War, Humanitarian Aid, Smuggling

Cigarette smuggling crisis threatens humanitarian aid efforts in Gaza

Cigarette smuggling crisis hampers aid delivery in Gaza.

A Palestinian man selling cigarettes in his shop, at Rafah in southern Gaza Strip. (Photo: Shutterstock/ Anas-Mohammed)

As Gaza grapples with severe shortages, a new crisis has emerged: rampant cigarette smuggling is disrupting crucial humanitarian aid efforts. With tobacco prices soaring to unprecedented levels, creative and often dangerous smuggling operations have become commonplace, complicating the already challenging task of delivering essential supplies to the war-torn region.

Since Israel banned the entry of "commodities" into Gaza following the October 7 attack, cigarette prices have skyrocketed. A single cigarette now costs around $25, with packs selling for 1,600 to 2,000 shekels, compared to the approximate price of one package of Marlboro cigarettes in Tel Aviv which is 35 ₪). This price surge has forced many of Gaza's estimated quarter-million smokers to either quit or seek alternative means of obtaining tobacco products.

As reported by YNet News, smugglers have devised ingenious methods to transport cigarettes, including hiding them in hollow watermelons and concealing them within humanitarian aid shipments. The Wall Street Journal reports that criminal gangs have begun targeting aid convoys and UN storage facilities in search of hidden cigarettes, which a UN official described as "Gaza's new gold."

The situation has become so dire that over a thousand truckloads of aid are reportedly stranded on the Gaza side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Israel due to security concerns. Aid organizations claim that these smuggling-related disruptions, combined with ongoing conflict and destruction in Gaza, are significantly hampering their distribution efforts.

Before Israel's offensive in Rafah, cigarettes were primarily smuggled through the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border. However, with that route now closed, smugglers have shifted their focus to the Kerem Shalom crossing, leading to increased attacks on aid shipments.

This crisis underscores the complex challenges facing humanitarian efforts in Gaza, where the need for basic supplies intersects with the black market demand for cigarettes. As one UN official warned, "This is threatening to undermine everything we're trying to do."

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