Govt to expand buffer zone in North Sinai

State-owned Al-Ahram reported on Monday evening that the government will be expanding the buffer zone between North Sinai and the Gaza strip to 1 km in width.

The buffer zone was originally set to be 500 meters wide and 14 km long, but the military’s most recent decision will expand the zone by an additional 500 meters.

According to Al-Ahram, the military discovered that the smuggling tunnels connecting North Sinai and the Gaza strip were longer than they expected – ranging between 800 and 1,000 meters under the Sinai border – hence the decision to widen the buffer zone.

The military began work on the buffer zone last month following a number of attacks on security personnel in North Sinai. In order to create the buffer zone, the Armed Forces evacuated residents from Rafah, began to demolish around 800 residencies and displaced 1,156 families. 

Families should be compensated with at least LE300 a month, which the military says is competitive with rent rates in Rafah. However, in a statement, President Abdel Fattah Sisi stated that the total compensation for displaced civilians could reach up to LE1 billion.

In a recent statement, the Armed Forces said that there are only 93 houses left in Rafah, and that these will be demolished in the next two days.

The zone has been criticized by activists as an extreme measure and for its detrimental effects on civilians.

Last week in a statement to Reuters, the Secretary General of Amnesty International, Salil Shetty, criticized the zone saying, “You can create fortresses and buffer zones but it will come back to bite.” 

He added that “The government is going after the Muslim Brotherhood in every possible formal and informal way, and we are seeing the consequences in Sinai.”

Shetty criticized the government’s suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood and said that while the violent actions of the militants in Sinai are unforgivable, they are also understandable.

The US has recently given the zone its blessing, with US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki stating on October 30 that, “Egypt has the right to maintain their own security. And we understand the threat that they are facing from Sinai.” 

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