Sunday, October 26, 2014

26-Oct-14: The ongoing savagery just over the border

The entrances to smuggling tunnels (foreground) are seen on the border between Egypt
and the southern Gaza Strip, near Rafah August 8, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)
From The Independent (UK), October 25, 2014:
Two attacks in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula killed 33 security personnel, security sources said, in some of the worst anti-state violence since Islamist President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown last year... Thirty people were killed in the first attack in the al-Kharouba area northwest of al-Arish, near the Gaza Strip, the sources said. Military helicopters transferred the dead and wounded to Cairo. Among them were several senior officers from the Second Field Army based in Ismailia, security sources said. The car bomb attack targetted two armoured vehicles at a checkpoint near an army installation, the sources said. They said the big explosion and high death toll were likely due to the vehicles being loaded with ammunition and heavy weapons. Security officials gave conflicting accounts of the first attack, with one Sinai-based official saying a rocket-propelled grenade was used. More than 25 people were wounded. Hours later, gunmen opened fire on a checkpoint in al-Arish, killing three members of the security forces, officials said.
Wikipedia gives the context:
The Sinai peninsula has long been known for its lawlessness, having historically served as a smuggling route for weapons and supplies. Security provisions in the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty of 1979 have institutionalized a diminished security presence in the area, enabling militants to operate with a freer hand. Moreover, the limited government-directed investment and development in Sinai has discriminated against the local Bedouin population, a population that values tribal allegiance over all else. The combination of Sinai's harsh terrain and lack of resources have kept the area poor and hence ripe for militancy
And an update ["Curfew and state of emergency in North Sinai follows deadly attacks"] via Mada Masr, an independent Egyptian news site, from Saturday:
On Friday night, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued Presidential Decree No. 366 (2014), which stipulates that large swathes of North Sinai (including Arish and Sheikh Zuwayed) be placed under a three-month state of emergency, along with a curfew from 5 pm to 7 am each day, until further notice. Violations of the curfew are punishable by imprisonment...
In a statement to the newspaper, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb said, “The state will take strict measures to confront this dirty war,” adding, “lowly acts of terrorism will not keep us from realizing our political roadmap.”
Authorities also decreed the indefinite closure of the Rafah border crossing, the only legal access point into or out of Egypt from, the Gaza Strip as of Saturday. The exact reasoning behind this closure was not explained by Egypt's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or other state officials.
The Chinese news agency Xinhua said on Saturday:
The Gaza-based Corporation for Crossings and Borders said in an emailed press statement that Egyptian authorities have officially informed the Palestinian side on the closure of the main crossing for the coastal enclave. "Egypt informed us today morning that it shut down Rafah crossing until a further notice due to the deteriorated security situation in Sinai," said the statement.
Though these reports don't say it, most of the frequent bombing attacks on Egyptian security forces, on Egyptian public facilities, on Egyptian politicians and on the Egypt-to-Jordan gas pipeline have been ascribed to the Salafist jihadists of "Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the most active militant group in Egypt". Since 2011, its terrorists have also repeatedly fired rockets [source] into southern Israel, including the resort city of Eilat.

Friday's assault was "the biggest loss of life in decades for Egypt's army, which has been carrying out an offensive against jihadists in northern Sinai". The Egyptian campaign has involved their forces destroying (they claim)
more than 1,600 tunnels connecting the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, most of them since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last year. The Islamist group Hamas, the main power in the blockaded Palestinian enclave, uses the tunnels to smuggle in arms, food and money. [AFP, September 20, 2014]
Egypt's Al-Ahram says the number of tunnels destroyed by Egypt is larger than that, and hints at Egypt's grievances against Hamas:
Egypt's military has destroyed a total of 1,813 smuggling tunnels in the Sinai Peninsula since January 2011, state news agency MENA reported. The network of smuggling tunnels connects the desert region with the Palestinian Gaza Strip, controlled by the Islamist Hamas movement. Egypt's army has been waging an offensive in North Sinai to counter a rising jihadist militancy that has left hundreds of police and army personnel dead in the last two years. The military has raided suspected sites and has routinely announced the killing or arrest of militants. Egypt has accused Hamas of interfering in its internal politics. Hamas has vehemently denied such accusations... Hamas is an ideological offshoot of Egypt's now-banned Muslim Brotherhood group, from which ousted president Mohamed Morsi hails. Relations between Egypt and Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007 until recently, have been tense since Morsi's ouster in July, 2013. [Al-Ahram, October 9, 2014]
Here in Israel, there are some less sanguine opinions about the effectiveness of Egyptian efforts to shut down those Sinai-Gaza tunnels:
For their part, the Bedouin smugglers acknowledge that the Egyptian crackdown has forced them to think smaller. The massive tunnels that used to accommodate cars and trucks have been destroyed, but many of the one- to two-meter-wide corridors have survived. One Bedouin guide told Reuters that smugglers had built up to 200 more such tunnels in the last two years, bringing the total of working tunnels up to 500. Comparatively, before the crackdown, there were some 1,500... ["Smuggling between Sinai and Gaza still thriving", Times of Israel, August 22, 2014]

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