Saturday, September 15, 2012

15-Sep-12: The ongoing chaos in Sinai [UPDATED 16-Sep-12]

The MFO's Sinai headquarters [Image Source]  
If you were Egyptian, and got all your news about Egypt from Egyptian sources, you might end up somewhat in the dark. Not a new problem, but an ongoing one. Al-Ahram is [source] "Egypt’s largest news organisation, and the publisher of the Middle East’s oldest newspaper: the daily Al-Ahram, in publication since 1875". Buried deep inside the English version of its online edition, virtually impossible to find unless you look hard, is this report about something that happened in Sinai on Friday:

Egypt Bedouins storm peacekeeper Sinai camp over anti-Islam film
AFP, Friday 14 Sep 2012
A group of Bedouins stormed an international peacekeepers' camp in Egypt's Sinai Friday to protest against a film mocking Islam, sparking clashes that left three people injured, a security official said. The Bedouin broke through the fence of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) compound and set fire to an observation tower. In the ensuing clashes two Colombians and an Egyptian were injured, the official said, adding that the extent of their injuries was not immediately clear.
Bearing in the mind the increasingly violent state of Sinai and the clear presence there of very active Islamist and jihadist terrorist groups, the rather minor coverage is odd. [In case you have not seen our numerous reports on the terrorist attacks that have plagued Sinai in the past two years, and the growing concerns here in Israel over their implications, please read just one of our recent blog postings on this: "17-Jul-12: Sinai used to be seen as a paradise"].

Here's how a major newspaper in far-off Australia covered the same Friday events - Australian soldiers were in the line of fire and Australians care about such matters.

Attack on Sinai base of Aust peacekeepers
From: AAP September 15, 2012 6:03PM
ARMED militants have attacked an international peacekeeping base in the northern Sinai, where Australian soldiers are stationed. However, no Diggers were hurt in the incident, Defence says. In the attack on Friday, dozens of militants broke down the wall of the facility housing the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) headquarters, setting fire to vehicles and facilities. MFO soldiers defended the base and there was an exchange of fire. Four MFO members were reportedly wounded.
"There were Australian Defence Force (ADF) peacekeepers within the base that was attacked, but all ADF personnel have been accounted for and there have been no reports of Australian personnel wounded in these attacks," a Defence spokesman said.
Twenty-five Australian personnel are serving with the MFO in what's known as Operation Mazurka. MFO is a non-United Nations mission formed in 1981 out of the Camp David accords, under which Egypt and Israel ended long-running hostilities and Israel agreed to withdraw its forces from the Sinai and hand the peninsula back to Egyptian control. Australia has been involved in MFO since 1982, initially with a much larger contingent that included eight helicopters and 100 personnel. MFO is commanded by the US and has about 1000 personnel, most of them Colombian and Fijian soldiers.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported the attackers were Bedouins. But it said it wasn't clear whether the attack was linked to unrest across the Middle East over a US film insulting Prophet Mohammed, or whether militants simply exploited the protests to stage the attack.
Not surprisingly, given the strategic stakes, the Jerusalem Post takes the matter more seriously still.

Armed Beduin attack peacekeeping force in Sinai 
By JPOST.COM STAFF, REUTERS09/14/2012 22:34
Militants opened fire on an international observer base near El Gorah, close to the borders of Israel and the Gaza Strip, and burned tires blocking a road to the camp, a witness and a security source reported Friday evening. Several members of the force were reportedly wounded. Officials from the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in Cairo were unreachable Friday night to confirm the report. Israeli media reported that some of the wounded were being evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba for treatment. The IDF would not comment on reports that IDF helicopters were helping evacuate the wounded.
Egypt's Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that the gunmen attacked the base, setting fire to one of its guard towers and raised a black flag bearing Islamic inscriptions. Channel 2 described the attackers as Salafi Islamists, although that report was not confirmed. The wounded were Colombian nationals, according to Egyptian media.
The MFO is a force that was deployed to the Sinai Peninsula as part of the 1979 peace treaty between Jerusalem and Cairo. It includes a US contingent... North of Sinai, at least 30,000 Palestinians staged rallies against the film, which denigrates the Prophet Mohammad. Some 25,000 took to the streets of Gaza City, answering a call by Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad faction and waving the green and black flags of the two factions. American and Israeli flags were set alight, along with an effigy of the film's producer.
For the record, here's how Christian Science Monitor and Associated Press kicked off their reports about Friday's armed assault on the peace-keeping force.

Christian Science Monitor
In an assault that appeared to take advantage of general anti-foreign sentiment in Egypt, Islamist militants on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula attacked a foreign mission assigned to observing the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.
And AP
CAIRO (AP) — A senior official with the international peacekeeping force in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula says suspected Islamic militants stormed their base near the Gaza-Israel border, wounding four officers. The official says militants armed with automatic weapons broke into the base Friday, set fire to vehicles and are clashing with the force inside.
Our conclusion: There's something about the term "Islamist militants" that causes news editors to make strange editorial decisions. We'll come back to this soon.

UPDATE Sunday morning, September 16: "Egyptian troops riding dozens of armored vehicles and supported by attack helicopters assaulted armed militants in the northern Sinai village of Sheikh Zuweid Sunday, Egyptian paper Al-Youm a-Sabi’ reported." [Source] And the terrorists are not sitting back and waiting: "Three Egyptian soldiers were injured in an attack on the government’s security headquarters in Northern Sinai, by Islamist terrorists on Sunday. The gunmen attacked the base with a barrage of mortar bombs and machine guns security officials told Reuters."[Source]

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