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Egypt Will Demolish a Town in its Expanded Gaza Buffer Zone

As insurgency continues in Egypt's North Sinai, the military is doubling the size of the security zone bordering Gaza, wiping out the town of Rafah in the process.
Image via AP/Ahmed Abd El Latif

The Egyptian military will double the size of a buffer zone bordering the Gaza Strip, almost completely wiping out a North Sinai town in the process.

Officials announced on Monday that they would expand a recently created security sector after the discovery of longer than expected smuggling tunnels leading from the neighboring Palestinian enclave, according to state media.

The existing 1,640-foot wide and six-mile long buffer zone was established in October and contains much of the border town of Rafah. Security forces quickly began to demolish hundreds of houses within the zone, displacing more than 1,000 families in the process. Former residents were reportedly given very little notice before being evicted and are yet to receive promised compensation for the loss of their homes.


The new expansion will double the breadth of the no man's land to encompass newly discovered tunnels running as far as 3,280 feet into Egypt, the government-owned Al Ahram newspaper reported.

The vast majority of Rafah is less than a mile from the border, so it may effectively cease to exist.

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The announcement comes amid the intensification of an insurgency in the Sinai peninsular, which has raged since the military removed democratically elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi from power in mid-2013.

Security chiefs have been rattled by an upswell in attacks on police officers and troops that has killed scores in a matter of weeks. These include an assault on an Egyptian army checkpoint in late October that left 31 troops dead and prompted officials to declare a state of emergency in several parts of the Sinai. This was followed last week by an unprecedented sea-borne attack on an Egyptian navy ship conducting a training mission off the coast of northeastern Damietta.

Egypt's most active extremist militant group, al Qaeda-inspired Ansar Beit al Maqdis (which roughly translates to Supporters of the Holy House) claimed responsibility for the checkpoint attack and last week released graphic video apparently showing footage of the assault. The Egyptian armed forces subsequently released a video in response entitled "The Egyptian Army's Message from Sinai."


Lawmakers may now be concerned that the insurgency will get worse still after Ansar Beit al Maqdis pledged allegiance to the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State on November 10 and urged attacks on authorities.

In an audio statement posted on the group's now-suspended Twitter account an unknown speaker urges "all Muslims" to support Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and for Egyptians to launch a violent campaign against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the recently-elected former military chief who ousted Morsi and then launched a crackdown on the former president's Muslim Brotherhood supporters. This left hundreds dead and many thousands imprisoned.

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"What are you waiting for, after your honor has been aggressed upon and your sons' blood has been shed at the hands of this tyrant and his soldiers?" the speaker says, apparently referring to Sisi, adding that the mainly peaceful protest tactics favored by the Brotherhood had failed.

Authorities frequently blame foreign plots for the unrest and violence, and Gaza is likely a focus for security chiefs worried about the traffic of weapons and militants through the tunnels.

However, Egypt's western neighbor could prove to be a greater danger. Libya's security situation has been precarious for some time and authorities are unable to control the various armed groups operating in the country or secure their borders. Significant volumes of Libyan weapons have already been trafficked east as a result.

Follow John Beck on Twitter: @JM_Beck