Egyptian authorities cleared 100 houses and destroyed 12 others on Thursday on the first day of expanding the “buffer zone” between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, described as phase II, army sources said early Friday.
Residents “largely” responded to the evacuation process, which proceeded calmly, in recognition of the danger of the tunnels, and the need to combat them, the sources added.
The authorities began on Thursday clearing houses located in the border area of North Sinai’s Rafah in preparation for expanding the “buffer zone” between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
A total of 1220 houses sheltering around 2044 families exist in the “buffer area” to be cleared, state-run MENA reported, adding that phase II is expected to be concluded during this week.
Egypt’s cabinet issued on October 29, 2014 a decision to clear 500 metres of the border area with Gaza of civilians, vowing to provide compensation for those evicted. The area was doubled to 1,000 meters in November, after discovering some tunnels in the Peninsula over 800 metres long.
The cabinet’s evacuation decision allows the forcible seizure of the property of those who refuse to comply. It also excludes those who shelter tunnels under their houses from entitlement to compensation.
Security forces have been targeting tunnels dug up in the Sinai to connect it with Gaza. Egyptian authorities say the tunnels are used to smuggle arms to militants in the Peninsula, while Sinai residents argue that the tunnels provide them with a source of income as they use them to trade goods with the besieged Gaza Strip.
Militants have stepped up attacks targeting security forces in Egypt, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula, since the army’s ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July 2013, which followed mass protests against his rule.
At least 30 military personnel were killed in a suicide blast which targeted a security checkpoint in Sinai’s Sheikh Zuweid on October 24, 2014 in the worst militant attack since Mursi’s ouster.