The Egyptian army is working to create a buffer zone on the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip in a purported effort to undermine weapon smuggling and chaos caused by militants in the Sinai Peninsula.
The military envisions that the ten kilometres long and 500 metre wide buffer zone is to be a building free area without trees. The area stretches from the Rafah Crossing through to the Mediterranean Sea.
Witnesses said that the Egyptian military bulldozers had started uprooting trees in the area and that 13 Egyptian houses had been destroyed in the al-Sarsouriya neighbourhood on Saturday.
At the time of writing this report, Egyptian military bulldozers were working fast razing sand-hills and trees in the area.
A military source, speaking anonymously, told the AP that homes had been knocked down over the last 10 days as a test of the buffer zone idea.
The interim Egyptian government said that this was a part of its “war on terrorism” campaign. The government and Egyptian mass media have been claiming that the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza have been used to smuggle weapons and Palestinian militants in to Egypt.
Egyptian residents in the neighbourhoods in the planned buffer zone took to the streets on Saturday, torching car tires and hurling stones at the Egyptian army in an effort to delay the demolition of their homes.
Witnesses said that the army called for residents to leave their houses through the loudspeakers of nearby mosques. The army bulldozers then immediately started damaging the houses.
“They did not give residents eviction notices and did not even give them enough time to collect their properties,” a tribal leader told AP.
In an interview with the Egyptian TV, CBC, Egyptian interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, claimed that the tunnels were the main cause of the uncertainty in Egypt. He insisted that prominent leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood had used the tunnels to enter and hide in Gaza.
Meanwhile, Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu-Zuhri, denied that the tunnels had been used to smuggle weapons and militants to Egypt or to smuggle Muslim Brotherhood leaders in to Gaza.
“Once they said that Osama Yassin was in Gaza, and two days later, they arrested him in Cairo,” Abu-Zuhri said in an example of the misinformation being reported on Gaza’s involvement in the Egyptian issue and the misuse of tunnels.
Since the end of the Israeli war on Gaza in 2008/2009, the tunnels have been used to smuggle goods, commodities and medicines. Numerous Palestinian, Egyptian and international journalists have observed the work of the tunnels.
They have reported that the tunnels have been used for humanitarian purposes in the light of the strict Israeli blockade on Gaza since 2006.