Activists have criticised proposals aired in the Egyptian media to create a military buffer zone by displacing thousands of people living near the Rafah border crossing to Gaza, following the death of at least 30 army personnel in Friday’s attacks in North Sinai.
Khalid Arafat, an activist and a leading member of the Nasserist Al-Karama Party, said “displacement is a measure that the enemies of the state want”.
Massaad Abu Fajr, a Sinai-based human rights activist, condemned all calls to relocate Sinai residents. “Any displacement means the Egyptian state is declaring war on the Sinai local tribes,” said Abu Fajr on his official Facebook page.
He added that the media are seeking to steer public opinion towards accepting such action and condemned air strikes in areas of North Sinai against suspected militants as “collective punishment”.
General Fouad Allam, former head of Egypt’s security service, told the Daily News Egypt that displacing Sinai residents will only harm the locals. “Instead, the area has to be heavily secured, with watchtowers, and specially equipped soldiers. Also, the process of acquiring intelligence has to be developed, with all the previously arrested militants properly interrogated.”
Security expert and former general brigadier Khaled Okasha said the former strategy to counter terrorism proved unable to confront the rising wave of militancy in the country. “Security forces in the area are to blame for not accelerating the fight against terrorism. Hence, new methods have to be implemented.”
Okasha added that the proposal to displace residents near the border with the Gaza Strip has been circulating since the militant attacks that took place during the government of former president Mohamed Morsi.
“However, the authorities didn’t take the suggestion seriously then. Now, moving the citizens to Al-Arish – a safer area – is under consideration.”
Okasha denied that a displacement would affect the small number of residents in the area.
On Saturday President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi accused unspecified “foreign elements” of supporting the attacks, adding that such attacks “are aiming to break the will of the Egyptians”.
Al-Sisi met with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and stated that “the current war is a conflict of survival, where we are fighting for the return of the Egyptian state and its institutions”.
SCAF added that a committee headed by top personnel in the armed forces and the police is to investigate the attacks.
The committee released a statement on Sunday advising of the implementation of a presidential decree which declared a state of emergency in North Sinai for a period of three months. An indefinite curfew in North Sinai from 5pm to 7am was also announced.
The decree also stipulates that security forces are authorised to use force against any suspected danger. Also, starting on Saturday, Egypt fully closed the Rafah border crossing with Gaza, until further notice.
The committee vowed to use all means available to protect innocent civilians in Sinai.
On Friday, at least 27 army personnel were killed and more than 25 injured, after a car bomb exploded in the Karam Al-Qawadees neighbourhood in Sheikh Zuweid, North Sinai, on Friday afternoon.
Another three were killed when another attack took place in a checkpoint in Al-Arish. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The deceased received military funerals on Saturday in the presence of Al-Sisi.
On Sunday, Minister of Defence and chairman of SCAF Sedki Sobhi visited injured soldiers and praised their efforts in countering extremists in Sinai.