An estimated 2100 people were killed in North Sinai in 2015, including roughly 1800 described by the military as “terrorists,” 150 civilians, 40 police officers and conscripts, and 140 military personnel. Many civilians are direct victims of militant attacks or are killed by often unidentified shelling. Others were killed in the crossfires during clashes between the military and militant groups.
The estimate is a roundup based on statements by the military spokesperson as well as reporting from Aswat Masriya and Ahram Online. Because of restrictions on independent observers entering fighting zones, military statements are the primary source of information on counter-terrorism operations in Sinai. Human Rights Watch has estimated a higher total of over 3000 “terrorists” killed during the first half of 2015 alone, citing the Egyptian government.
The area has seen a surge in violence since the ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi, where militant groups like Wilayet Sinai, formerly Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, have claimed responsibility for hundreds of deadly attacks on security forces, along with many on civilians. Presdient Sisi recently stated that terrorism takes place in less than one percent of the area of North Sinai.
Egypt has responded with a controversial “war on terrorism,” including military campaigns like September’s operation “Martyr’s Right,” which killed approximately 500 “terrorists” alone according to military statements. This and similar operations also include scores of arrested suspects, the destruction and confiscation of massive amounts of weaponry, and destroying underground tunnels to Gaza considered by the military to be a passage for arms and militants.
In another counter-terrorism operation, a buffer zone was created along the border with Gaza. The process, however, destroyed thousands of homes yet failed to adequately provide for evicted families, a move which Human Rights Watch has considered a violation of international law.
The restrictions on outside reporting make the impact of these operations on civilians hard to assess. A Mada Masr interview with a community leader in the city of Sheikh Zuwaid showed that civilians feel caught between the operations of both the military and the militants. He said that some villages associated with militants have been almost completely destroyed by shelling. Others faced long power shortages during the larger military campaigns, along with a general drying up of services and sources of livelihood.
The year 2016 has seen a rise in both attacks and counter-terrorism operations with up to 100 militants killed since the start of the year.