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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The National Security Council Counterterrorism Division's plea to the Israeli public to leave Sinai immediately issued Tuesday sent shock waves through the peninsula Wednesday, as the southern part was placed on a high security alert in response.
According to Egyptian Brig.-Gen. Hossam el-Serfi, hundreds of Israeli tourists started leaving the Sinai through the Taba border crossing. Sinai is a popular budget vacation spot for Israelis, despite repeated warnings of terror attacks as well as a string of bombings that have claimed the lives of 125 people since October 2004.
On Tuesday, the National Security Council delivered what it described as an "especially high concrete warning against travel to the Sinai peninsula," telling Israelis to "avoid visiting there and to leave immediately." Similar warnings were issued both before and after previous terror attacks against Sinai tourist hot spots.
Following the announcement, Egyptian police tripled the number of checkpoints on the way leading to south Sinai resorts, including Sharm e-Sheik, Taba and Dahab, all of which have seen deadly attacks recently.
Though other security officials in Cairo privately said no security alert was in effect, Serfi said police and anti-terrorism troops were deployed around major hotels in the Sinai.
Authorities also increased the number of ambulances and doctors at major hospitals, Said Essa, head of emergency section of south Sinai hospitals, said.
Lt.-Col. (res.) Moshe Marzuk, a former head of the Lebanon desk for IDF Intelligence and a research fellow at the Institute for Counterterrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya, said Wednesday that the terror threats in the Sinai were not unexpected.
"Everything that is happening in Sinai now is as we predicted," Marzuk told The Jerusalem Post. "The main problem in Sinai is not the Egyptian government, it's the Palestinians. They continue to smuggle weapons and bombs through the border."
He said that the lawlessness in the Sinai could present a problem for Israeli interests. "If this continues," he warned, "we will eventually have to deal with this situation... To stop this ,you need a lot of money and ammunition. The Egyptian government is not ready to commit such resources."
Also on Wednesday, Egyptian police intensified efforts to detect five unidentified terrorists believed to be carrying explosives and plotting attacks against foreigners in Sharm e-Sheik, Maj. Muhammad Qabeel said.
Authorities received a tip through confessions by suspected terrorists currently in police custody about the five fugitives and their plot two days ago, he said.
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