The security measures that have curtailed daily life in North Sinai since the start of the Operation Sinai 2018 military campaign are set to ease further, following a Monday announcement by the region’s newly appointed Governor Mohamed Abdel Fadil Shousha. The news comes as media outlets report that police forces killed 11 members of a “terrorist cell” in the governorate’s capital of Arish.
The campaign, which was launched in February and is purported to counter militancy in the peninsula, has left North Sinai residents in various states of privation over the past months. Travel on international roads was barred except with a security permit, fuel stations were closed, students were left in limbo as classes at high schools and universities were suspended and fishing off the North Sinai coast was banned. However, since July, authorities have been trying to ease restrictions on residents, especially those related to travel and access to fuel and gas.
The announcement that regulations limiting freedom of movement within the government would be loosened was made in a public meeting at Arish’s Youth Village. Shousha, who replaced former North Sinai Governor General Abdel Fattah Harhour in late August, attended the meeting and told those gathered hat, as of Saturday, citizens will no longer be required to obtain permits to travel on international roads on weekdays.
Fuel allowances will also increase as the governorate will regulate provisions, he told attendees, by opening a fuel outlet in Arish. This outlet will provide cars and taxis with 15 liters of gasoline per week.
Additionally, classes for students at the public Arish University are set to begin on September 23, the new governor added, with classes at private institutions set to commence on October 13.
The private University of Sinai announced on Wednesday that the fall semester would begin soon for students at its Arish campus, “if security conditions allow.”
Supply shortages that plagued the governorate early in the campaign and have been incrementally lifted in past months, may also ease further. Shousha stated during the meeting that the governorate is currently negotiating with security figures to end the ban on fishing in North Sinai’s coastal areas. He added that discussions are also taking place to open government-run LPG outlets in Arish and to allow building materials and paint to be brought into the governorate.
Sources previously told Mada Masr that those selling construction equipment, plumbing supplies and paint were the most severely affected by travel and transport restrictions, as many of their goods were banned from Arish.
At the beginning of August, Mada Masr published a report highlighting signs that Operation Sinai 2018 may be winding down. The most important of these indicators were the withdrawal of military armaments and personnel from the governorate, while hospitals across the Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal region suspended their state of emergency. The reintroduction of foodstuffs and goods, and the decrease in security patrols in Arish neighborhoods also hinted that the campaign may be coming to a close.
The governor announcing the loosening of security measures came just over a week after reports emerged in local and international news websites quoting security sources as saying that police forces killed 11 members of a “terrorist cell” in an exchange of fire.
According to reports, the gunmen were hiding in an abandoned fuel station in the Wadi al-Arish Bridge area, before being raided. Police forces confiscated five automatic rifles and bullets, which were allegedly in possession of the dead militants. The reports did not note when the raid took place.
The state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper published the names of two of the militants killed, identifying them as Mohamed Ibrahim Gabr Shaheen and Jumaa Ayad Marshoud.
After the names were revealed, the Sinai Media Facebook page, which reports on local news in the Sinai Peninsula, published what it alleged to be a picture of Shaheen. The page reported that he and his son had been arrested from their residence on Cairo Street, Arish, 47 days ago. There has been no information as to the whereabouts of Shaheen’s son.
Similarly, four Armed Forces officers, two police officers and two police conscripts were killed in Sunday clashes with the Islamic State-affiliated Province of Sinai in the city of Sheikh Zuwayed.
A security source told Mada Masr, speaking on condition of anonymity, that a military convoy was attacked on Sunday during a patrol in Shalaq, a village close to Sheikh Zuwayed. The source added that an IED detonated close to the convoy, after which the assailants opened fire on the vehicles, resulting in the destruction of a M60 tank.
Heightened security measures have continued on some fronts, as military and police vehicles continue to encircle neighborhoods in south Arish for the second week in a row, following several attacks targeting security forces.
Several security checkpoints established in central Arish in June were closed after the Province of Sinai carried out an attack on military forces responsible for guarding a gas station in late August, which led to the killing of military personnel and civilians.