[See additional articles, photos, and videos on the Egyptian army’s military operation for a “buffer” on the Gaza-Sinai border, below. — Frontlines ed.]
Channel 4: “Buffer zone”
Yesterday Egypt began clearing residents from the town, on the Egypt-Gaza border, in response to the killing by Islamic militants of at least 31 soldiers in the Sinai peninsula town of Sheikh Zuwaid…….Large explosions could be seen in Rafah as Egypt accelerated its plan to create a 500-metre deep buffer zone by clearing houses and trees, as well as destroying tunnels it says are used to smuggle arms from Gaza to Sinai militants…….General Abdel Fattah Harhour, governor of the north Sinai region, has said each family displaced by the demolition programme will receive 900 Egyptian pounds – just under £80 – to cover three months’ rent elsewhere……But Rafah resident Hammam Alagha wrote on his Facebook page on Monday that his family had been given no more than eight hours to evacuate their home before it was blown up.”
AP: “Army blows up houses, Egyptians evacuate near Gaza”
By ASHRAF SWEILAM and MAGGIE MICHAEL, Associated Press
EL-ARISH, Egypt (AP) – With dynamite and bulldozers, Egypt’s army demolished dozens of homes along its border with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, after the military ordered residents out to make way for a planned buffer zone meant to stop militants and smugglers…….The plan to clear 10,000 residents from some 800 houses over just several days has angered the area’s already disgruntled population, which has long held grievances with Cairo.
“To throw 10,000 people into the street in a second, this is the biggest threat to national security,” said Ayman Mohsen, whose sister left her house located 350 meters from the border. Speaking to The Associated Press via online messages, he said the army told residents to leave on Tuesday within 48 hours, and that houses would be blown up even if people remain inside.
Over the past decade, the northern region of the Sinai Peninsula has become a hub for Islamic extremists, although insurgency has spiked since last year’s military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. It has also spread to other parts of Egypt, with militants targeting police in Cairo and the Nile Delta.
The move to set up the planned 13-kilometer (8-mile) buffer zone, which will be 500 meters (yards) wide, comes after militants attacked an army checkpoint near Sheikh Zuweyid town last week, killing 31 soldiers. No group claimed responsibility.
After the attack, Egypt declared a three-month state of emergency and dawn-to-dusk curfew there and indefinitely closed the Gaza crossing, the only non-Israeli passage for the crowded strip with the world.
Mona Barhomaa, a female activist who lives 800 meters from the border and who is not affected by evacuation order, said she supported the demolitions.
“The tunnels to me are like windows that for years my neighbors have used to infiltrate my house,” she said, referring to the underground passageways used to smuggle goods and weapons. “The tunnels led us into this hellish situation.”
Many residents however were agitated by the short notice and poor local organization, as well as a hostile media campaign unleashed days earlier that saw private and public television commentators equating opposition to the plan with treason.
Tanks and armored vehicles sealed off all of Rafah as thick grey smoke rose in the sky each time demolition charges went off and another house was toppled. Bulldozers knocked down other buildings as residents hurriedly left them, loading furniture, luggage, and personal belongings into pickup trucks before handing their houses over to the army for destruction.
“People are in a state of shock but helpless at the same time,” said Ahmed Aetaa, who lives in nearby Sheikh Zuweyid town and who is in touch with friends packing and leaving their homes in Rafah, where the main border crossing is located.
The corridor will eventually be monitored by surveillance cameras, and feature a water-filled trench that will be 40 meters wide, 20 meters deep and run all along the border to the Mediterranean Sea, officials said.
The border area is most populated in Rafah, a city that was split into two halves – one Palestinian and one Egyptian – after Egypt signed the Camp David accord with Israel in 1978. Plans to create a buffer zone along the Gaza border started after the Palestinian militant group Hamas seized the territory in 2007. Hamas used the tunnels as a way to escape an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed on Gaza.
Previous administrations had tried but failed to implement similar measures to stop the endemic smuggling with the Palestinian territory, although they all backed down before protests by residents, who see the evacuation as forced displacement.
In an attempt to assuage residents’ frustration, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi ordered local authorities to quickly give compensation to residents who left their homes. “Egypt will never forget its honorable people of Sinai, their well-documented patriotic stances and their sacrifices to the nation,” he said through spokesman Alaa Youssef.
The statement however came in stark contrast to the previous days’ media campaign against residents who opposed the plan, summed up in the words of retired Gen. Abdel-Moneim Said: “They are either traitors, not aware of the dangers or have other purposes that we all know,” state news agency MENA quoted him as saying.
Middle East Monitor: “Egypt’s Israeli Tactics”
Asa Winstanley, Middle East Monitor, Thursday, 30 October 2014
An attack against the Egyptian military in the Sinai peninsula on Friday resulted in the death of 31 soldiers. No group has yet claimed responsibility, but reports suggest that the deadly assault was likely carried out by al-Qaida-inspired groups in the area.The military regime wasted no time taking advantage of the situation to tighten its grip on power. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the military-officer-in-a-suit who came to power on the back of July 2013’s military coup against the elected government, declared a state of emergency.
And in a “presidential” decree Monday, he outlined further measures which will make it easier for the military to stamp out its opponents under the guise of fighting a broadly-defined “terrorism”.
All state facilities, including universities, roads, bridges and power stations, are now defined as military. This means that military trials for civilians are back, despite the regime’s solemn promises to democratise.
While a regime official told The Guardian’s Patrick Kingsley that the law was aimed only at “terrorists committing serious crimes against the military and police,” in fact it is broadly defined, allowing military trials against civilian opponents of the regime. The same anonymous official tellingly said: “Do you really think that the government will apply those military trials [to] activists without justification?”
The re-defining of areas of the country as “military zones” is closely reminiscent of Israeli tactics against Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank. Any time Palestinians mount a protest against the various forms of Israeli occupation (be it the apartheid wall, the settlements or the checkpoints) Israeli soldiers instantly declare the area a “closed military zone”. Daring to violate these “zones” is an offence that can result in imprisonment, serious injury or death at the hands of Israeli army thugs.
This is only one of the many parallels, and shared strategies and tactics between the Israeli occupation regime and the Egyptian military regime. This should come as no surprise; both are part of the regional order imposed by US imperial hegemony. Both regimes are generously funded with billions of dollars in US tax payers’ money.
Soon after the Sinai attack, Sisi reportedly said that Egypt was fighting “a war of existence”. This is another propaganda theme long beloved of Israeli army officers and politicians (who are quite often the same people). Any sign of Palestinian resistance, armed or unarmed, political or diplomatic, is declared as a threat to the very existence of the Israeli entity. Such intense paranoia is a sign that the Israeli project for the region does not have much of a shelf-life.
Reports on Tuesday stated that Egypt has already begun demolishing Egyptian homes in Rafah, near to the Gaza Strip, in order to create a 500m-wide “buffer zone” to protect against the “threat” of weapons smuggling.
Some 580 homes are said to be under threat of destruction. And again: Israel has done the same, in the very same area. During the second intifada, Israeli bulldozers in Gaza cleared out huge areas in the Palestinian town of Rafah (close to Egyptian Rafah, but on the other side of the Egypt-Gaza boundary line). Countless Palestinian homes and livelihoods were destroyed and levelled to the ground, all the name of “fighting terror”. The American activist Rachel Corrie, crushed to death by one of these army bulldozers, was only one of the many to die at the hands of the Israelis during that period.
Egypt’s military regime has made it a mainstay of their propaganda to agitate against Palestinians in Gaza, scaremongering against them using compliant state media, which frequently indulges in outlandish conspiracy theories. Palestinians in Gaza in general, and Hamas in particular were said to be behind all sorts of ills to befall Egypt since the 2011 democratic uprising that overthrew previous military dictator Hosni Mubarak. This is another parallel with Israel, since anti-Palestinian agitation is the very lifeblood of Israeli politics.
While al-Qaida-like groups in the area are a genuine threat, it can easily be argued that the Egyptian regime’s brutal tactics in the region, as well as its enthusiasm for doing Israel’s dirty work there have opened the door for these groups.
Until Egypt is restored onto the path towards democracy, fanatic armed groups can never really be defeated. Military solutions of such conflicts cannot suffice without a political settlement.
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.