Egyptian military aircraft have carried out aerial assaults against targets in the city of Rafah on the border with the Gaza Strip, which has been subject to a tight Israeli blockade for the past eight years.
Palestinian witnesses said the warplanes struck areas in Rafah, located 340 kilometers (211 miles) northeast of Egypt’s capital, Cairo, on Thursday.
Video footage later showed an Egyptian fighter jet flying over Gaza. The loud sound of an airstrike could be heard afterwards, and a thick black column of smoke stretched across the area.
The development comes as the Egyptian army has demolished thousands of homes in Egypt’s side of Rafah over the past year. The demolitions are part of Cairo’s efforts to create a so-called buffer zone with the Gaza Strip, and cut off cross-border tunnels between Rafah and the besieged Palestinian enclave.
The Egyptian army said on its official Facebook page on December 7 that it had demolished 20 underground tunnels along the border with the Gaza Strip. The tunnels had reportedly been found and destroyed a month earlier.
The Gazans have been using the tunnels to bring in basic needs into the besieged enclave.
Dozens of people, mostly Palestinians, have lost their lives during the destruction of tunnels that has intensified since the 2013 ouster of the former Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi.
Israel and the Egyptian military have launched a campaign to destroy the tunnels, preventing the people in Gaza from bringing most of their basic goods like construction materials, food, and fuel into the coastal enclave.
A report by the World Food Program (WFP) in February 2014 revealed that the tunnels represented “the main supply and commercial trade route for goods into Gaza” since 2007.
The WFP report added that the “closure of the tunnels by Egypt hampers the few remaining drivers of economic growth in the Gaza strip.”