Hamas Tunnel System Rivals Viet Cong’s Cu Chi Underground

A massive tunnel system running from Gaza to the Egyptian border has long served Palestinians as a supply line for everything from livestock and construction materials to stocks of medicine and smuggled electronics equipment. But now, as war rages in the area, the tunnels have become the main route for providing the Hamas terror group with the weapons it needs to fight against Israel.

Dismantling the tunnels in Gaza is a key to winning the war for Israel, which has sworn to eradicate them. But military experts and historians say destroying them will be virtually impossible.

The tunnel system is strikingly similar to the Viet Cong’s infamous Cu Chi tunnels during the Vietnam War. The Viet Cong moved weapons and supplies through their tunnels, and, like Hamas, they hid their top leaders in them as well.

The Viet Cong — a technological underdog to the United States — was able to bridge the firepower gap against a world superpower through sheer cunning and ingenuity. The Cu Chi tunnels were a vast network of underground sleeping quarters, weapon storage facilities, war rooms and fighting positions. Guerrillas dug out makeshift medical facilities beneath the earth, and doctors tended to wounded soldiers in them, often using electricity generated by a bicycle.

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Hamas in the eyes of an expert

Khaled Hroub, author of several books on Hamas, including Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide, talks to Al Jazeera about the organisation’s social and political strengths and explains why he believes Hamas is looking forward to an Israeli ground incursion into the Gaza Strip.

Al Jazeera: Two senior Hamas leaders were recently killed in Israeli air strikes. How will this impact the organisation’s leadership?

Khaled Hroub: Hamas’ leaders are very used to hiding and escaping Israeli attacks. I can’t see this affecting Hamas much. Israel succeeded in assassinating very senior Hamas leaders including Sheikh [Ahmed] Yasin himself, the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, then followed by Abdel Aziz Al-Rantissi who was the main figure in the Gaza Strip.

And yet Hamas continued to rise and succeeded in winning the elections. So I can’t see Hamas being weakened by killing one or two or three or even more leaders in the Gaza Strip.

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IMF issues oil and food warning

The International Monetary Fund has warned that rocketing oil and food prices could worsen poverty.

Many poor and developing countries will have to adjust their economic policies in response to soaring commodity prices, according to an IMF report issued on Tuesday.

“Some countries are at a tipping point,” Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF’s managing director, said.

“If food prices rise further and oil prices stay the same, some governments will no longer be able to feed their people and at the same time maintain stability in their economies,” he said in Washington DC.

The IMF chief called for more co-operation between nations to tackle higher oil and food prices.

The world financial body’s stated aim is protect global financial stability but critics have accused it of acting to protect the interests of more powerful nations such as the US.

Peter O’Driscoll, the executive director of Action Aid USA, a development aid organisation, told Al Jazeera that the IMF was to blame for much of the current food crisis.

O’Driscoll said the IMF had encouraged developing countries to grow crops for the export market, putting their food security at risk, and that the body had pushed governments to end subsidies of domestic agricultural industries.

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Karzai pleads for $50bn in aid

Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, has appealed to world donors for $50bn in long-term aid to repair the country’s war-torn economy and fight the Taliban.

“Afghanistan needs large amounts of aid, but precisely how aid is spent is just as important,” Karzai told about 80 countries and donor organisations at a conference in Paris on Thursday.

Al Jazeera’s Tim Friend, at the conference, said Karzai would probably not get all of the $50bn he has asked for, but closer to $15bn.

The US pledged on Wednesday night to contribute $10bn to the country in 2009.

The World Bank has reaffirmed its financial commitment to Afghanistan with $1.1 billion in aid over the next five years.

Karzai told Al Jazeera earlier this year: “We have to go on and continue until we are fully satisfied … Until we make sure Afghanistan is safe, Pakistan is safe and by extension, Britain and America are safe.”

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Taliban capture Afghan district

Taliban fighters have captured a remote district in central Afghanistan, taking prisoner the police and administration chiefs, officials and the Taliban have said.

The fighters attacked the district of Rashidan in the central province of Ghazni in a night attack, the provincial governor and a Taliban spokesman told the AFP news agency on Friday.

“Last night, Taliban attacked Rashidan district and it fell,” Jan Mohammad Mujahed, a provincial police chief, said.

Mujahed said the plight of the seized officials was unknown.

‘Under control’

Zabihullah Mujahed, a spokesman for the Taliban, confirmed the fighters were in control and said the district chief, acting police chief and eight policemen had been taken prisoner.

“They are alive and we have captured them. The district is totally under our control,” he said.

Rashidan is a small district about 120km southwest of Kabul.

Teresa Bo, reporting for Al Jazeera in Afghanistan, said Ghazni – located along a major highway from Kabul, the capital, to the south – is one of the most complicated areas where fighting between Afghan, US and Taliban forces takes place almost everyday.

She said the Taliban hold power in strategic locations, adding: “Some of the police officers working here say they are afraid they will be the next target.

“Security is one of the major concerns for every one in the area; the soldiers know they can be attacked any minute.”

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Chavez warns Colombia over US base

Venezuela’s president has warned Colombia against building a US military base on the countries shared border, saying he would consider such a move an act of “aggression”.

Hugo Chavez said on Thursday that he would not allow a US military base to be established in La Guajira, a region spanning northeastern Colombia and northwestern Venezuela.

“We will not allow the Colombian government to give La Guajira to the empire,” Chavez said, referring to the US during a speech to a packed auditorium of uniformed soldiers.

“Colombia is launching a threat of war at us.”

The Venezuelan leader said that if Colombia built the base, his government would revive a decades-old territorial conflict and stake a claim to the entire region.

The US maintains a military base at the Pacific port of Manta in Ecuador, but Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s president and an ally of Chavez, has repeatedly said he will not renew the 10-year leases when it runs out next year.

Chavez said that William Brownfield, the US Ambassador to Colombia, had suggested that the Ecuador base could be moved to La Guajira.

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Thousands killed in China quake

The toll from a powerful earthquake that struck southwest China has crossed the 10,000 mark, state media said.

Buildings collapsed and telephone links in several areas snapped after the magnitude 7.5 quake struck 92km northwest of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, at 2:48 local time (0628 GMT) on Monday.

The quake was felt across a number of cities in Southeast Asia, including the Thai capital Bangkok, more than 1,800km from the epicentre in the county of Wenchuan.

The mountainous region has a population of about 100,000 people and Al Jazeera’s reporter in the area said aftershocks were continuing.

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