On the eve of the first day of the Armed Forces’ new major counterterrorism operation in Sinai, authorities restricted access to and movement within North Sinai, while residents of the governorate’s main cities steel themselves for the new military campaign.
According to residents, authorities prohibited entry to and exit from Sinai starting Thursday night by preventing traffic coming through the Suez Canal and the Ahmed Hamdy Tunnel. On Friday morning, authorities also blocked the main road linking North Sinai’s cities to one another, and cut off passage to and from the cities of Arish, Sheikh Zuwayed and Rafah.
Despite a sense of anxiety following the Armed Forces’ statement on Friday — in which the military announced the launch of a major operation aiming to “end terrorism” in the peninsula — the day progressed quietly in Rafah, Arish and Sheikh Zuwayed, save for the sounds of explosions coming from desert areas south of each city and military aircraft flying over them during the early hours of Friday.
The military spokesperson stated on Friday that the operation started with the bombing of militant ammunition storehouses in north and central Sinai.
Residents say that the shelling targeted locations close to Egypt’s border with Palestine. A local on the Palestinian side of the border city of Rafah tells Mada Masr that the explosions could be heard clearly in the city and residents saw smoke close to the borders from 7 am to 8 am.
Friday prayers were held in all mosques in Sinai — although cut shorter than usual — and public Friday markets continued as normal.
Phone and internet networks, however, were down in Rafah, Sheikh Zuwayed and Arish, as well as parts of central Sinai, from 7 am to 1 pm.
Gas stations also stopped providing fuel to residents starting Friday morning. The owner of a gas station in Arish tells Mada Masr that all stations in the city received instructions from the city’s supply directory not to sell any gas to civilians starting on Friday at 9 am until further notice.
Laila Mortagy, the Education Ministry’s deputy in North Sinai, says that classes have also been indefinitely suspended in all schools in the governorate. Sinai University postponed the start of the second semester to February 17 and a source at the Engineering Institute in Arish tells Mada Masr that the institute has also delayed the resumption of classes for at least a week.
According to eyewitnesses, joint military and police forces surrounded a residential area near Assiut Road in southern Arish at 3 pm on Friday and searched houses, taking several people into custody.
In Bir al-Abd, a town 90 km west of Arish, a resident tells Mada Masr that military forces blocked the passage of cars on the main road and have been conducting patrols throughout the city.
The resident adds that Romana Hospital, which is located on the main road leading into the city, was taken over by the military and turned into a military unit.
On the eastern borders, Egypt closed the Rafah crossing, which had been open since Wednesday for passage between Gaza and Egypt, while Hamas security was heavily present on the borders on Friday morning, according to a Rafah resident.
According to the source, hundreds of Palestinians who had made it to the Egyptian side of the crossing were forced to return on Friday and informed that the crossing has been closed indefinitely, leading to altercations between Palestinians and police and military forces on the crossing.