The Egyptian army has “vastly expanded” the destruction of homes, commercial buildings and farms in Egypt’s North Sinai region since 9 February 2018, a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today.
Since 2014 the Egyptian government has pursued plans to create a buffer zone along its border with Gaza on the pretext that fighters and weapons are being smuggled through the tunnels that connect the peninsula to the Strip.
Activists have said this war on terror is better described as a war on civilians. Between July 2013 and August 2015 the Egyptian Army demolished at least 3,250 buildings to this effect, according to HRW.
In late 2017 authorities resumed demolitions with the view to creating another buffer zone around Al-Arish airport following a missile attack on an air base and military helicopter. On 9 February 2018 the Egyptian military intensified this military campaign with the launch of “Operation Sinai” which they said would rid the region of terrorism once and for all.
Under this operation demolitions have escalated. By analysing a time series of satellite imagery HRW has revealed that the military destroyed at least 3,ooo homes – the largest number since the 2014 campaign began – in just two months. Homes of alleged terrorists, activists and their relatives in North Sinai’s largest city Al-Arish have also been set on fire and then demolished.
There has been no judicial oversight of the demolitions and the government has cut electricity and water of the houses they are evicting to force people to leave.
According to the report residents were given between 24-48 hours warning to evict, no assistance for moving to temporary housing, no process to appeal compensation decisions or for destruction of or damage to farmland.
Middle East Director at HRW Sarah Leah Whitson said: “Turning people’s homes into rubble is part of the same self-defeating security plan that has restricted food and movement to inflict pain on Sinai residents.”
The Egyptian army claims it is protecting people from militants, but it’s absurd to think that destroying homes and displacing lifelong residents would make them safer.
The demolitions and forced evictions have exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation in North Sinai, according to HRW, which has calculated that 420,000 residents in North Sinai have been in urgent need of humanitarian assistance since “Operation Sinai” began. With the destruction of farms entire extended families have lost their livelihoods.
Because it is illegal to enter Sinai without a permit, the lack of journalists and human rights workers there means there is an information blackout on the atrocities committed.