jeudi 9 mars 2017

As drugs flood into Gaza, Hamas to get tougher on smugglers

Les saisies de drogues en janvier égal à l'ensemble de 2016; Contrebandiers adoptant de nouvelles tactiques pour échapper à l'arrestation; La police, les fonctionnaires de la justice cherchent des peines plus sévères.

Confiscated drugs in the strip (Photo: Reuters)

Drug seizures in January equal to whole of 2016; smugglers adopting new tactics to escape arrest; police, justice officials seek tougher punishments.
Reuters|Published: 07.03.17 , 23:18

Smugglers are ramping up the flow of drugs like marijuana and opioids into the blockaded Gaza Strip, posing a challenge to the Islamist group Hamas and its security forces, who are promising to crack down harder on those caught.

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In January this year, Gaza police seized as many drugs in one month as the whole of 2016, underscoring just how rife the problem has become, officials said. Eight major dealers were arrested in one of the biggest police stings to date.

"It was a big deal for us. The (smugglers') plan was to store it in the Gaza Strip in order to distribute it by dealers in the coming months across the strip," Ahmed Al-Qidra, head of Gaza's anti-drug squad, told Reuters. But he also added that it was a problem, not a phenomenon, playing down the severity of the situation.

The smuggling is carried out by Palestinian and Egyptian gangs who mostly move marijuana and an opioid painkiller called Tramadol from Egypt into Gaza, where two million Palestinians live in a territory about 45 km long and up to 12 km wide.

In their latest raid, police seized more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, worth as much as $5 million on the streets of Gaza, and 250,000 tablets of Tramadol, which sells for between 130 and 170 shekels ($35-$45) for 10 pills.

An incarcerated drug smuggler in Gaza (Photo: Reuters)

Until 2013, most of the smuggling was through a network of tunnels Palestinians and Egyptians had built under the border and that were used to shift everything from food and consumer goods to cars, cattle and rockets.

But Egypt either blew up or flooded the tunnels during 2014 and 2015, determined to crack down on the trade. Since then, smugglers have found new ways of shifting merchandise.

Seized Tramadol (Photo: Reuters)

In some cases, drugs are moved inside cooking gas canisters or washing machines. Sometimes, small quantities are thrown or catapulted from Egypt into Gaza. There are kilometers-long narrow tube tunnels used to move small packages, and in other cases drugs are shipped inside goods imported from Israel.
Qidra said reduced court sentences for drug dealing may have helped spur a resurgence in activity. He and others are now calling for tougher sentences to deter the industry.

Yehya Al-Farra, an aide to Gaza's attorney general, said the courts needed to go back to sentences in the past, recalling that in 2009 one dealer got 15 years in prison.

Gazan drug smuggler (Photo: Reuters)

"A murder can be done by different means: (a murderer) can use a gun, a knife, hanging or drugs to kill people. Therefore, the law has stated that punishment can be up to a death penalty, because this dealer is considered to be a killer of the soul," Farra told Reuters.

He and Qidra want more recruits to the anti-drug squad and more medical facilities to treat addicts.
With unemployment over 40 percent, many young Gazans turn to drugs out of despair.

"They think Tramadol will change the reality and will make them feel at peace," said Fadel Abu Heen, a psychiatrist. "They want to lose awareness and any feeling of reality."

(Photo: Reuters)

Inside a Gaza prison, convicts urged men to reject drugs. A 26-year-old barber said he started taking half a Tramadol a day after a friend offered him some. Soon he was addicted.

"I urge everyone to not do drugs and not get close to it because at the end of the road there is either prison or destruction," another prisoner said.

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