Security forces have expanded the house demolitions of alleged terrorism suspects following a spate of attacks on security checkpoints in residential areas in Arish in late June. According to residents, the homes of several wanted suspects in the al-Salayma and al-Safa neighborhoods were recently destroyed. Some of the homes had been partially rebuilt after already being targeted for demolition once before.
The demolitions come in the third week of a large-scale security campaign by the police and the Armed Forces in Arish following a surge in militant attacks in the area. The city’s main square, al-Rifai, remains partially closed and security forces are conducting regular patrols in the neighborhoods of al-Shorbagy, Safa, and Salayma, as well as the area from the western edge of the Arish Valley through the city’s cemeteries in the south, according to residents.
The heavy deployment has brought the security presence in Arish back to levels not seen since the height of Operation Sinai 2018, with frequent house searches, street closures and the enforcement of a strict 10 pm curfew.
A local source in the Safa neighborhood in southern Arish told Mada Masr that four houses in his area were completely destroyed by army bulldozers. The source said that security forces armed with bats raided the houses before they were demolished and smashed all the furniture and appliances inside. He added that in this round of home demolitions, structures were being completely destroyed, whereas in the past often only one room or a wall would be taken down.
A number of families in the area, including those with relatives in hiding who are wanted by the police, have begun moving their furniture and valuables out of their homes in anticipation of them being targeted for demolition, according to the source.
Home demolitions began increasing at the end of 2017 and the practice became more widespread in the months that followed, prompting Human Rights Watch to issue a report blasting the practice and criticizing it as illegal.
Meanwhile, security forces have also begun to conduct arrest sweeps in neighborhoods around the police station in Arish’s fourth precinct. According to several residents, a large number of young men between the ages of 17 to 20 were detained in random sweeps and taken to various security headquarters, where they were interrogated and made to fill out “contact forms” with all their personal information.
Security forces forced residents in the patrolled neighborhoods to install surveillance cameras on their homes at their own expense in order to be able to monitor houses and the surrounding streets.
Police forces also closed off the side gates leading to cemeteries in the area and manned the main entrance to prevent the entry of more than 10 people at a time to attend funerals and also pressured families to end burial procedures as quickly as possible.
Since early May, police at a security checkpoint set up at the entrance to the road leading to the cemeteries have stopped visitors and forced them to leave their national ID cards before allowing them to enter; some visitors to the site have also been arrested.
Residents in North Sinai are also regularly terrorized by militants in the area. On July 7, dozens of armed members of the Province of Sinai, the Islamic State affiliate in the peninsula, stormed the village of Sadat near the city of Bir al-Abd and roamed the streets, stopping residents and checking IDs.
A local source told Mada Masr that militants abducted a young man from the Dawagra tribe as they were leaving the village and detained him for a week before releasing him last Friday. According to the source, the man was kidnapped when he tried to intervene as the militants were detaining a disabled person in the area.
The Province of Sinai has not claimed responsibility for the storming of the village, but several residents said its members were responsible for the kidnapping and that they fled to the southern edge of the village, where the group has recently set up a base.
Sadat provides a convenient gathering point near Bir al-Abd for the militant group. Their recent presence there points to an expansion of the group’s areas of operation; previously, Province of Sinai was primarily targeting the village of Rawda and the salt mines in Sabika.
Meanwhile, a number of post offices around Bir al-Abd have remained closed since gunmen stormed a post office in Rawda on July 1 and stole at least LE 100,000. According to residents, two days after the Rawda incident, all the post offices in the area surrounding Bir al-Abd shut down, and most have remained closed. The armed robbery also affected the provincial capital, Arish, where some post offices closed.
In a further disruption of daily life, authorities have reportedly banned all motorcycles from the streets of Bir al-Abd and its surrounding villages. A statement by the Prime Minister announcing the ban, which was published on the city council Facebook page, recently went viral among residents.
Three city residents told Mada Masr they contacted the local police station to confirm the ban. They said police would allow several days for residents to sell their motorcycles to buyers outside of the area.
A similar ban on motorcycles has been enforced in the cities of Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zayed since February 2017. The ban also applies to major tourist areas in South Sinai, as well as parts of Taba on the border with Israel, and the city of Ras Sidr on the Gulf of Suez.
Electricity has returned to the cities of central Sinai after nearly 10 days of a continuous power outage following an attack on an electrical tower in the area by unknown assailants earlier this month.
Meanwhile, central Sinai MP Gaazi Saad al-Awaidah announced that the electricity grid in his city is now separated from that of North Sinai and is connected to South Sinai in order to avoid future sabotage-related blackouts. He added that around 120 new electricity towers stretching across central Sinai have been installed to serve the area’s needs.