Egypt beefs up troops in Sinai
Rafah border is reopened temporarily
The Egyptian army massed troops and carried out arrests yesterday to quell increasingly deadly Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula close to the borders with Gaza and Israel.
Egypt also temporarily reopened the Rafah border crossing into the Gaza Strip, which was closed after militants attacked troops last Sunday and killed 16 soldiers.
State news agency Mena said six “terrorist elements” were arrested during patrols in the North Sinai province and a security source branded them as Islamist hardliners suspected of belong to a jihadist group.
But residents of the small Sinai village of Sheikh Zuayyed said nine people were rounded up, with all insisting the men were good Muslims but had no links with Islamic extremists.
One woman said that her husband, Eid Saeed Salama, 72, was feeding his goats when he was taken away.
And a neighbour said government forces stormed her impoverished house and seized her 68-year-old husband Selmi Salama Sweilam who was sleeping, dragging him away “naked”.
“Armed men came in. One of them hit me and I fell to the ground,” she said, adding that the government forces also confiscated 45,000 pounds (€6,000).
An AFP reporter said cupboards had been ransacked and their contents strewn on the floor which was also littered with wheat. A security official said, however, that authorities will press on with the operation “until we rid the Sinai of terrorism and criminals,” Mena reported.
The agency also reported that authorities have released a Canadian student and two Japanese men who had been arrested in the Sinai after determining they entered the country legally.
Trucks carrying dozens of armoured personnel carriers mounted with machine-guns rolled through El-Arish on Thursday and several took up positions in the town.
Yesterday, the town of El-Arish near the borders and its environs were calm but tense, an AFP reporter said, with the military deployed in force. A tank sat behind a barrier of sandbags painted with Egypt’s black, white and red national colours on which was written the slogan “victory or death”, said the reporter.
The buildup comes after state TV reported that military helicopters and soldiers killed 20 militants on Wednesday in the first such operation in the Sinai in decades, in retaliation for the raid.
Israel said on Thursday it gave Egypt the go-ahead to deploy helicopters in Sinai, easing the restrictions on military presence in the peninsula under a 1979 peace treaty between the neighbours.
But Bedouin tribal leaders who met with Interior Minister Ahmed Gamal al-Din in El-Arish have cast doubt on the reported killing of militants, and demanded to see the bodies.
A resident, Abu Mohammed, also said there was no bloodshed.