The North Sinai Governorate revealed on Thursday that it will ease restrictions on residents, following heightened security measures imposed on the governorate since the beginning of the Armed Forces’ Operation Sinai 2018. Citizens will now be allowed to travel three days a week without prior notice or permits from the governorate, and taxis can resume operations using natural gas supplied from the city’s only station starting Friday.
Citizens are now allowed to travel on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays without obtaining prior security permits, according to a statement from the governorate. The city has been paralyzed since the start of the military campaign, which saw the Armed Forces enforce the closure of gas stations and limit travel to individuals who received security clearances, among other measures.
The governorate’s decisions were announced three days after the Arish residents conference took place last Monday. Attended by North Sinai Governor General Abdel Fattah Harhour and the chief of staff for the North Sinai security department Brigadier General Mamdouh Gaafar, the conference allowed residents to voice their concerns regarding the ongoing security restrictions. The conference reportedly ended with civilians being provided a phone number where they can voice future complaints via WhatsApp.
On Wednesday, Harhour explained in a televised interview on “Masr al-Naharda” (Egypt Today), a new evening talk show which airs on Egypt’s official state television channel Misr al-Oula, that the measures imposed as part Operation Sinai 2018 are part of a strategy to force “terrorists” to leave their “dens” after “they run out of food, fuel, etc.” Harhour added that there was a plan, however, to “make things easier for the civilians by operating two gas stations to supply governmental and ambulance vehicles.”
As part of the military’s security protocols during the operation, Harhour added, the identities of all individuals leaving or entering North Sinai are documented. “They could be terrorists, who have shaved and worn jeans, and now want to escape,” he explained. Harhour pointed to the availability of three buses belonging to the East Delta Travel Company that leave Arish daily, after identities of passengers are checked.
The governor added in his interview that there are orders from President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to ease restrictions, such as removing cement security blocks and sand bags around security buildings to allow movement in the street, in order to restore life back to the governorate.
On Thursday, Harhour met with the governorate’s executive council to discuss the development of public squares, the installation of new technology to secure government and security facilities to replace the sandbags and stones currently in use, as well as the construction of the new Rafah city, according to the statement.
At the beginning of June, security forces announced an ease in security measures, allowing citizens to travel for two days without prior notice or permits and the opening of gas stations to supply taxis and public transportation vehicles with rationed amounts of fuel. Nevertheless, these restrictions were re-imposed a few days later, following the killing of civilians and military personnel in new incidents of violence.
Meanwhile, Arish, the capital of the governorate, witnessed a two-hour power outage on Thursday, after the steam-electric power station broke down. Similarly, electric circuits installed on high-pressure towers were out of service due an aftershock, which, according to a source in the North Sinai electricity directorate, was caused by heavy explosions that took place west of Arish on Wednesday evening. Residents in Sheikh Zuwayed are now entering their third day without electricity, after one of the electrical circuits connecting the city to Arish collapsed, with civilians resorting to the use of generators, which only work for a limited number of hours per day.
Two weeks ago, following an uptick in militant violence in the governorate, police forces in Armored Personnel Carriers were heavily deployed to areas located between the south of the city and the downtown area, including Arish’s public courtyard, which is considered a crowded marketplace, as well as Assiut and Cairo streets and Attalawy Square. Security forces forced shop owners to close their businesses and a number of security checkpoints were established in these areas.
Meanwhile, the Armed Forces continues to enforce a ban on certain goods entering Arish, including electronic devices, construction materials, paints and sanitary ware.