Egypt levels Sinai homes in new strategy against Islamist militants

By REUTERS
November 5, 2014 08:11
1 minute read.

At Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip, families are emptying their homes - lugging mattresses and furniture onto waiting vans as soldiers look on from armored cars.

In this village of Ibshar and eight more along the frontier, 680 houses - homes to 1,165 families - are being razed to seal off smugglers' tunnels and try to crush a militant insurgency in northern Sinai that has intensified since the army overthrew President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood 16 months ago.

The operation's resulting no-mans-land - a security buffer 13.5 km-long and 500 meters deep - will provide greater visibility and, Egypt hopes, deter any future passage of arms from Gaza to militants who killed 33 security personnel on Oct. 24 in some of the deadliest attacks since the army took power.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. But they bear the hallmarks of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which is targeting police and soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula, a strategically important area that borders Israel, Gaza and the Suez Canal, the fastest shipping route between Europe and Asia.

Inspired by Islamic State, the al-Qaida offshoot now facing US-led strikes in Iraq and Syria, Ansar recently began a campaign of beheadings against locals who have informed on its fighters.

Against that backdrop of fear, Egypt may only face heightened resistance if it proves successful in closing the tunnels. Many locals depend on income from illicit tunnel trade in all kinds of goods and without it could be tempted into the arms of insurgents, said one source from Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.


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