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GAZA (Reuters) - The Islamist group Hamas appealed to Egypt's new rulers on Thursday not to pursue its destruction of smuggling tunnels into the Gaza Strip, warning they risked throttling the small Palestinian territory.
Palestinians say Egyptian forces have destroyed dozens of tunnels linking Gaza to Egypt since the ousting of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi earlier this month, severely hindering the inflow of vital goods, including fuel.
Israel maintains a strict control of all imports into Gaza to prevent arms reaching Hamas, which refuses to recognize the Jewish state's right to exist. Under international accords, goods cannot be imported via Egypt, making the hundreds of smuggling tunnels crucial for the Gazan economy.
Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas Gaza government, warned of disaster if the tunnels were shut off without other entry points being opened.
"This is going to strangle Gaza. We appreciate that Egypt has security needs, but at the same time the needs of our people that should not be affected," he said at a public event.
Egyptian forces stationed in the adjacent Sinai Peninsula have regularly clashed in recent days with Islamist militants, who are demanding that Mursi be returned to power.
Hamas, which is an offshoot of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood movement and has been sent reeling by his removal from power, has rejected any suggestion that Gaza might be helping the Sinai militants.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, writing by Crispian Balmer; editing by Mark Heinrich)