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Army Targets Homes

What is affected
Housing Private
Type of violation Demolition/destruction
Date 06 September 2013
Region MENA
Country Egypt
City Rafah, Saini

Affected persons (number & composition)

Total 100
Men 0
Women 0
Children 0
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Demolition/destruction
Housing losses
- Number of homes 13
- Total value

Duty holder(s) /responsible party(ies)

State
Local
Interntl org.
Brief narrative

The Egyptian armed forces are conducting a military operation in Sinai along the border in Rafah. While the operation’s stated objectives include pursuing “terrorists” and armed Islamic groups, the assault is threatening to drive residents from the area.

Sinai – In parallel with the military operation launched by the Egyptian army in Sinai, eyewitnesses confirmed to Al-Akhbar that the army is also demolishing homes on the Egyptian side of Rafah, without compensating owners and even threatening to expel them. It seems that the army wants to establish a buffer zone along the border with the Gaza Strip.

A high-level army commander visited several neighborhoods adjacent to the border on the evening of Saturday, August 31, to ask residents to evacuate their homes within a week in preparation for their demolition. According to Khaled Samir, a resident of Rafah, the military commander in question came to the neighborhood of Qanabza in plainclothes, giving the residents a week before the army would begin razing buildings within a 500-meter radius from the line separating the Egyptian and Palestinian sides of Rafah.

When asked whether the residents were compensated, Samir answered sarcastically, “We have all built palaces out of the profits from the tunnels.” Taking on a more serious tone, Samir rejected what he called generalizations and collective punishment, saying that he has not been able to get married yet because his government salary was not even enough to cover his basic needs.

The threat of expelling dozens of families without compensation led residents of the area to stage a small protest on Sunday. Tensions in the city were fueled further when the army began demolishing homes owned by the Shaweir family, prompting their occupants to threaten to blow themselves up using cooking gas bottles should the army come in. But a field commander intervened and ended the standoff, telling the residents that the demolition would be stopped and that they would not be expelled.

However, this did not last for more than a day. On Monday afternoon, the army resumed demolishing homes, which the locals stressed did not contain any tunnels. This puts the total number of homes demolished in Rafah in the span of three weeks at nine, some using explosives and others using bulldozers.

Human rights activists from Sheikh Zowaid, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al-Akhbar that when they went to document the demolitions, they were warned by local residents not to approach because there was a “settling of scores” taking place between the owners of the homes and Egyptian intelligence officers.

Meanwhile, the residents of the border region claimed that the vehicles carrying goods to be smuggled through the tunnels could still be seen passing as usual, while most tunnels were operating efficiently. These residents said that the demolished tunnels shown in propaganda pictures by the Egyptian army accounted for only a small number of the tunnels supplying goods to Gaza.

 

According to the official account, only homes adjacent to tunnels are being demolished. However, residents of Rafah say that the number of destroyed tunnels is less than half the number of homes.

On the eastern side of the border, residents of the Gaza Strip complain of a fuel crisis, which has produced long lines at gas stations, but they did not complain about any shortage in basic goods or high inflation. According to a security source, stepping up control over the tunnels on the Egyptian side affects the passage of individuals, fuel, subsidized goods, and weapons. But basic goods are allowed in so that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza will not worsen further and blow up in the face of the Egyptian authorities, as the source put it.

In parallel with the demolitions, the army has carried out attacks against what it says are militant positions, but which have affected civilian homes. On Tuesday, Egyptian army Apache helicopters bombed positions in the villages of Thuma and Muqataa, south of Sheikh Zuwaid and Rafah, but local sources said that four empty houses in Thuma were hit, including an abandoned cottage belonging to a radical Islamist from the Nile Valley.

Two homes were also attacked in the village of Muqataa, and parts of the Abu Munir mosque nearby came under fire. While locals said that there were no fatalities, state television claimed that more than 10 were killed and several more injured. Neighbors living near the bombed houses denied the official account, which claimed that weapons caches had been the targets.

On Wednesday morning, the Salafi Jihadi Group in Sinai issued a statement accusing the army of deceit and treason, citing the civilian homes destroyed in the bombardment and the damage sustained by the mosque.

The statement said that the home of the family of Yusri Muharib al-Sawarka, who was assassinated by an Israeli drone during Eid al-Fitr, was also targeted in the bombing. The statement was supplemented by a few dozen pictures of the aftermath of the bombardment on the mosque and the homes, including detailed information about the remnants of rockets used.

Interestingly, Debka, a website close to Israeli intelligence, published a comment on the incidents in Sinai, saying that this was the first time in eight years that the Egyptian army fulfilled commitments agreed to by Hosni Mubarak in 2005 following the Israeli unilateral disengagement from Gaza.

According to Debka’s report, the Egyptian army, since the ouster of Mohamed Mursi, has pursued two strategies simultaneously to crack down on “terrorists” who Debka claims pose a threat to both Egypt and Israel: establish a 14 km buffer zone along the border with Gaza and erect dozens of checkpoints in the region to restrict logistical supplies to the militants.

Original article

Egypt destroys homes for possible Gaza buffer zone

Ibrahim Barzak, AP 

Egypt’s military has bulldozed 13 homes along the Gaza Strip border and caved in tunnels beneath them as a prelude to the possible creation of a buffer zone to reduce weapon smuggling and illegal militant crossings, angering residents who said they were evicted with no compensation, security officials and residents said Sunday.

The military envisions creating a building-free zone with no trees 500 meters (1,640 feet) wide and 10 kilometers (6 miles) long starting at the Rafah border crossing and ending at the Mediterranean Sea, Northern Sinai government officials said. The homes were knocked down over the last 10 days as a test of the buffer zone idea in an area called el-Sarsoriya, a few kilometers (miles) from the Rafah crossing, while explosives were used to collapse the tunnels. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The move comes as Egypt’s interim government and military attempt to assert more stringent state control over the largely lawless northern Sinai Peninsula, where Islamic militants have turned large areas into strongholds from which they have waged repeated attacks on security forces, Christians and tribal leaders — compounding the country’s security woes following the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July. Homes and trees along the Gaza border have been used as cover for militants to fire at border guards.

Ehab Ghussein, a spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza, said he feared the creation of a buffer zone would be a step toward imposing "a new blockade on Gaza and increase the suffering of its people."

"Buffer zones are not needed between neighboring countries that have historical and social relations," Ghussein said, calling instead for the establishment of a free trade zone at the Egypt-Gaza border.

The Egyptian military has closed much of the once-bustling tunnel system, but some remain along the 15-kilometer (9-mile) stretch of border. Residents angered by the past days’ bulldozing staged a sit-in protest in Rafah Sunday.

One tribal leader claimed that many more homes were demolished and that the bulldozers showed up without notice, giving people little time to leave with their belongings. And the government has offered no compensation, he added, to residents who lost their homes. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution from authorities.

Samir Faris, who lives in Rafah, said many more people fear losing their homes if the buffer zone is expanded beyond the small area leveled so far. Most homes along the border are two to three stories high and house more than one family, he said.

"Officers come to houses, tell people they must leave now because they want to expand borders," he said. "We have no objections, but first give us a clear plan."

At the sit-in, residents decided to propose a committee to authorities made up of the military, local officials and tribal leaders who could negotiate over the relocation of people living in houses proposed for demolition. Residents themselves are divided about moving. Some insist they want to stay while others would agree to leave with compensation because they agree with the military that the tunnels are a threat to Egypt’s national security.

The tunnels have been used for years to transport goods and people including weapons and militants back and forth between Sinai and Gaza.

The Egyptian military estimates it has closed 350 tunnels, or about 80 percent of the total. Officials say efforts to destroy the tunnels have accelerated along the border since Morsi’s ouster by the military after millions protested his rule.

Egypt is concerned about militants moving back and forth between Gaza and Sinai through the illicit tunnels, and is struggling to control jihadist sympathizers in the desert peninsula in what it calls a "war against terrorism."

Under its peace treaty with Israel, Egypt must coordinate any large-scale military operations in the northern Sinai with Israeli officials. The Egyptian officials said Israel has repeatedly accepted Egyptian requests to move equipment and troops into the area.

News of the home destructions came a day after Egyptian authorities arrested a top militant named Adel Jabara, identifying him as an al-Qaida leader in the Sinai Peninsula. He is accused of masterminding the killings of 25 off-duty soldiers last month. The attack was one of Egypt’s worst militant strikes since last year’s killing of 16 soldiers near Rafah by masked gunmen.

Last month, the army foiled an attempted suicide car bomb attack targeting a police station in the Gaza border town of Sheikh Zuweyid, killing three militants before they could reach their target.

Original article

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