EL-ARISH, Egypt: The Egyptian army is doubling the size of a buffer zone along the border with the Gaza Strip, an operation that will involve the destruction of 1,220 more homes and the eviction of residents, military officials said Thursday.
The operation will expand the existing 500 meter (yard) buffer zone in the north of the Sinai Peninsula. The buffer was created last November to a full kilometer (0.6 mile), a move meant to halt the passage of weapons and militants through cross-border smuggling tunnels but which also puts more pressure on the Palestinian militant Hamas group, which rules the coastal area.
The expansion of the buffer zone is expected to be completed by the middle of next week, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media. They added that the army plans to compensate the evicted families.
But the creation of the buffer has drawn criticism of the authorities. The forced evictions are displacing a restive population with longstanding grievances against the Egyptian government. North Sinai is one of Egypt’s poorest districts, and the local population has complained of neglect and discrimination for decades.
Military and police have come under escalating attacks as authorities battle a low-level insurgency in Sinai, which intensified following the ouster in July 2013 of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and the subsequent crackdown on his supporters.
Egypt announced the first stage of the demolition plan in October, after militants killed 31 Egyptian troops in an assault on a checkpoint 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the border town of Rafah, the deadliest attack on Egypt’s army in recent history.