Egypt's Bedouins protest border house removal

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AL-ARISH: At least 700 Sinai desert Bedouins protested Sunday over fears the Egyptian government plans to remove their houses from an area along the border with the Gaza Strip.

Hundreds of police surrounded the Bedouins as they set several tires ablaze in the Massura area, on the main road between Rafah and the nearby city of Al-Arish, Bedouin and security sources told AFP.

The demonstrations followed a visit two days earlier by local officials who surveyed land and houses near the border, prompting local fears that a never implemented anti-smuggling measure was set to be revived.

The decree has been around for years but we have never asked any citizen to leave his home or lands to this day, a local official told AFP, insisting however that the decree to move all buildings 150 meters from the border was not being implemented.

These rumors have absolutely no basis in fact, north Sinai governor Ahmed Abdel Hamid told the state Mena news agency, adding that there were no plans to remove any houses.

Israel has long complained about extensive smuggling of people and weapons through tunnels underneath houses in the divided border city of Rafah.

The entire border area has been a powder keg in recent months with local Bedouins angry at the numerous security sweeps targeting their smuggling activities.

Around 5,000 Palestinians also remain trapped in increasingly dire conditions on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing since it was closed last month after Hamas forcibly took over the Gaza Strip.

Egypt has since dispatched hundreds of police reinforcements to the area to prevent any Palestinian attempt to force the crossing.

Sudanese refugees are also often caught in the area trying to cross the border into Israel seeking jobs.

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