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Monday, November 3, 2014

Egypt displaces up to 10,000 and destroys homes to create buffer zone with Gaza Strip

In order to clear the area for a buffer zone along the border with Gaza, Egypt is already demolishing more than 680 homes and displacing up to 10,000 residents.


The government claims that the buffer zone will prevent weapons being smuggled from Gaza into the northern Sinai area where there has been constant conflict between armed militants and Egyptian forces. Many fear that the move will cause even more unrest resulting from the anger of residents at the move.
 On Tuesday Egyptian authorities simply ordered residents to evacuate so their homes could be destroyed to set up the zone. The move may have been in part a reaction to an attack by militants four days earlier on an army post in the area that killed at least 31 soldiers. Egypt declared a state of emergency and a dawn-to-dusk curfew. Egypt also closed the only crossing into Gaza from Egypt indefinitely. This will make relations with Gaza even worse.
 As part of the peace agreement control of the crossing was to be by the Palestinian Authority of Abbas rather than Hamas. Closing this key crossing the only non-Israeli exit from Gaza can only cause more tension between the Palestinians and Egypt. The buffer zone is to include trenches filled with water meant to deter the digging of tunnels. The zone is to be half a kilometer wide and extends for 13 kilometers (9 miles) along the border. Originally, the residents had been given just 48 hours to leave but after protests there has been some negotiations with officials to extend the deadline.
Egyptian security forces have been launching a bloody offensive in the northern Sinai area for three years. The media in Egypt blame Hamas' rulers for intervening in Egyptian affairs. Hamas opposed the overthrow of the former president who like Hamas is associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Some Egyptian media accuse Hamas of supporting militants fighting inside Egypt. The Egyptian reaction appears to be one of panic rather than well thought out. The demolitions will cause enormous resentment at Egyptian authorities just the type of environment militants need to operate within the area.
The demolition is taking place even in the crowded town of Rafah at the border crossing. Hammam Alagha tweeted: “Our house in Rafah is more than 60 years old,” she noted in a series of posts. When Alagha refused to vacate the house after being ordered to do so by an army officer, he told her it would be bombed the next day with everything that was in it. The move in the Sinai has been accompanied by a crackdown on university protests, and a recent presidential decree that puts public facilities such as power stations and roads under military protection. The decree also proclaims that anyone who commits crimes against public utilities will be prosecuted in military courts. This could allow even protesters arrested at demonstrations on public roads to be tried in military courts. Apparently, civilian courts that condemn hundreds to death at a time are not sufficiently harsh. This is precisely the type of action that helped precipitate the original uprising against Mubarak.
 Now as Gamal Eid who is head of the Arab Network for Human Rights in Cairo puts it: “Egypt is solidifying the rule of the police and the military,” Aaron Reese, deputy research director of the Institute for the Study of War based in Washington DC said that the clearing out of the border town of Rafah fit the pattern of Egyptian security forces who used overwhelming power and expediency to confront militancy in the area: “The Egyptian Army is not interested in pursuing urban warfare. Instead, they respond to militant attacks using tanks and helicopter gunships, against targets in the Sinai where it is quite difficult to identify individual militants blended into the local population. It’s going to wind up being counterproductive in the long term. You can’t bulldoze an area, home by home, and persuade people to work with you.” Increased conflict in the area, however, can be used to justify even further crackdowns on any sort of protest anywhere in Egypt.

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