After Wednesday’s coordinated attacks in Sheikh Zuwayed and the ensuing clashes that claimed dozens of lives, it is difficult to assess the impact on local civilians.
Official military sources reported that 17 military personnel and at least 100 militants were killed in the violence, while the Agence-France Presse (AFP) news agency reported casualties had reached 74 by the end of the day, including 36 security forces and 38 militants. Who is defined by various sources as a “militant” or “terrorist” is also difficult to determine as Mada Masr attempts to examine who is paying the highest price in this war.
Mobile communications and electricity cuts during the 12-hour operation made reaching residents and contacts in Sinai difficult, and many landlines were down as a result of the targeting of communication towers in the ongoing battle.
However, the testimonies of journalists and activists posting updates on social media as events unfolded can give a glimpse into how local residents are coping in the embattled region.
Journalist Mostafa Singer, who lives in Sheikh Zuwayed, reported the death of four women and one man in Wednesday’s violence, as well as many injuries.
“Sheikh Zuwayed was subject to a dramatic turn; we have civilian casualties and countless numbers of people were injured and rescued by residents,” Singer wrote on his Facebook page. Many of the injured were treated in their homes due to the absence of ambulances, he reported, adding on Twitter, “The cries of children were heard all day.”
A friend of Singer’s in Cairo told Mada Masr he had been trying to reach him all day, but that his landline is on the first floor of his house, and his family, like many others in Sheikh Zuwayed, were hiding from the violence in their basement.
Journalist Ayman Mohsen claimed that many civilians had disappeared, especially traders and those who usually sell agricultural products on the international road between Rafah, Sheikh Zuwayed and Arish.
Mohsen reported his brother missing on Wednesday. He was finally found after being trapped for hours close to a military checkpoint in Sheikh Zuwayed. Activist Hussein Hantoush also said he lost contact with his parents and three siblings.
After the dust settled, Mohsen said microphones in mosques were used to announce civilian casualties as families searched for their lost relatives.
Security sources told Mada Masr on Wednesday that militants had planted explosives along the military road to prevent the Armed Forces from accessing ammunition. Residents fear they may explode and cause more civilian casualties.
Graphic pictures of slain militants were posted on the official Facebook page of the Armed Forces’ spokesperson on Wednesday. While many of them obviously show men wearing military jumpsuits, some of them are in civilian clothes. The page also published photos from military jets depicting the targeting of what the Armed Forces claimed were militant targets. However, it is difficult to determine whether only militants were targeted, or if there were also civilian casualties among those reported dead.
“We are besieged under the shelling; we are all captives of time. Sheikh Zuwayed is emerging from this historical day, looking for a tender hand,” Singer tweeted.