Residents of Egypt’s restive North Sinai region have gathered to protest feared plans by the army to expel them from their homes as a military offensive against an Islamic State group (IS) offshoot continues.
Areas around the towns of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid have witnessed nightly gatherings by Bedouin communities who live there, The New Arab’s sister site, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, has reported. These residents have for years backed the Egyptian military in their fight against the Wilayat Sinai, an Islamic State group affiliate.
Tribal sources in southern Rafah told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that steps were taken around a month ago to expel the Bedouin residents, who had returned to their villages after IS militants were kicked out.
These measures also included preventing brick factories from operating and residents from accessing basic services such as electricity and potable water.
The military also cut off the road leading to the villages of Mahdia and Naga Shaibana.
The same tribal sources, who preferred to remain anonymous, said the measures have practically expanded a 2014 buffer zone to include areas south of Rafah. The Wilayat Sinai group’s stronghold is further east in Sinai, near the border with Israel and the Gaza Strip.
The Sinai’s Bedouin communities have questioned why the buffer zone is now expanding to areas bordering Israel and not just the Gaza Strip.
They have also voiced concerns that the plan’s aim is to expel the area’s original inhabitants from their land.
An IS-linked insurgency has raged for years in the Sinai Peninsula’s north. It intensified after a 2013 military coup led by current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The conflict has largely taken place out of public view, with journalists and outside observers barred from the area. The fighting has so far not expanded into the southern end of the peninsula, where popular Red Sea tourist resorts in Sharm al-Sheikh are located.
In February 2018, the military launched a massive operation in the region that also encompassed parts of the Nile Delta and deserts along the country’s western border with Libya. But the militants appear to have become more brazen in recent months, besieging vital infrastructure east of the Suez Canal in August.
While there is no official death toll, it is believed that hundreds of Egyptian soldiers, civilians and militants have died in the ongoing violence.