GAZA — Marijuana and prescription painkillers are flooding into the Gaza Strip as never before, prompting officials from the ruling faction Hamas to seek tougher punishments for smuggling drugs into the blockaded territory.
The quantity of drugs seized in Gaza in January was as much as for the whole of 2016, officials said.
Eight major dealers were arrested in one of the biggest police stings to date. Palestinian and Egyptian gangs move marijuana and an opioid painkiller called tramadol from Egypt into Gaza, where 2 million Palestinians live in a territory about 28 miles long and up to eight miles wide and where four in 10 young men have no job, pushing some towards drugs.
“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.”
In their latest raid, police seized more than 220 pounds of marijuana, worth as much as $5 million on the streets of Gaza, and 250,000 tablets of tramadol, which sells for between $35 to $45 for 10 pills.
Until 2013, most smuggling was through a network of tunnels Palestinians and Egyptians had built under the border to move everything from food and consumer goods to cars, cattle and rockets. But Egypt destroyed the tunnels – blowing them up or flooding them – in 2014 and 2015 to crack down on the trade. Since then, smugglers have found new ways of shifting merchandise.
Yehya Al-Farra, an aide to Gaza’s attorney general, said the courts needed to get at least at tough as they were in 2009 when one dealer got 15 years in prison.
“The dealer who sells poison is a killer of the soul; he is the same as the killer who uses a gun or a knife,” Farra told Reuters. “Therefore, the law states that a punishment up to the death penalty can be applied.”