Multiple attacks near Egyptian border come following recent reports of drastic collapse in Sinai security, including allegations of involvement by militants from Gaza.
The breaking news that there have been multiple attacks on Israelis near the border with Egypt comes after the Egyptian authorities recently began a major attempt to reassert control over the Sinai region. The attacks are reported to have included the use of small arms, roadside bombs and mortar fire, suggesting the involvement of trained militants. This is in keeping with reports of recent violence in Sinai, with allegations of involvement by Palestinians from Gaza.
The Egyptian news source Al Masry Al Youm has covered the developments in Sinai extensively. While it is common knowledge that the border between Gaza and Egypt has become increasingly porous since the fall of the Mubarak regime, the relative absence of national control of the region was highlighted on 29 July, when approximately 100 armed men drove into the town of Arish and attacked the local police station. The clash left an army officer and three civilians dead.
Ever since the attack, thousands of Egyptian soldiers and police have moved into the area in order to combat the state of lawlessness. There were reports of Al Qaeda-affiliated groups operating in Sinai, with one such group releasing a statement calling for:
‘..the establishment of an Islamic emirate in Sinai, for Sharia to be the only source of legislation, and for the armed forces to scrap Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel.’
There is also considerable evidence that militants from Gaza operate freely in the region, with the Hamas government refusing to hand over suspects to the Egyptian authorities. In the immediate aftermath of the Arish attack, the Palestinian ‘Army of Islam’ group were held responsible, and several Palestinians were said to have been arrested.
In August, Al Masry Al Youm reported that Egyptian authorities had made several requests for Palestinians in Gaza to be arrested, only to be rebuffed by Hamas:
‘A well-placed Egyptian source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Egypt has made the same request several times, accompanied by evidence of the Palestinians’ involvement, but without any success. On each occasion, the Gaza authorities had different excuses for not giving up those held responsible for harming Egypt’s security, said the source.’
The threat of armed jihadists was deemed so severe that, in coordination with Israel, the Egyptian army moved tanks into Sinai on 14 August – the first time it had done so since the region was demilitarised in 1981.
Yesterday, a workshop was discovered that contained materials used for the type of militant attacks reported to have occurred today:
‘Joint police and army forces raided the workshop and seized a large number of arms including a sniper rifle, 718 bullets, a sound suppressor, a 39-by-7.62mm machine gun and three gun magazines,” the statement said.
‘They also seized eight bombs, three rocket-propelled grenades, black flags with religious slogans, tools used in making explosives such as ball bearings, a jar containing a chemical mixture used in making explosives, rocks, tin, two car alarms, two remote-controlled door bells, a voltmeter and a dismantled landmine.’
Just Journalism recently covered how Egyptian Salafist groups in the area had declared the transfer of weapons to Gaza as a ‘religious duty’ and appeared to float the idea that the Palestinian territory could become part of the Sinai region.