Egypt on Tuesday announced that it would create a 500 meter buffer zone along the border between the country’s Sinai Peninsula and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, a few days after coordinated attacks on Egyptian positions in the territory killed at least 33 soldiers. Residents in the area were ordered out of their homes, and the structures inside the new zone are to be demolished, per the Associated Press:
Egyptian authorities on Tuesday ordered residents living along the country’s eastern border with the Gaza Strip to evacuate so they can demolish their homes and set up a buffer zone to stop weapons and militant trafficking between Egypt and the Palestinian territory, officials said.
Cairo has spent the better part of the last year trying to demolish Hamas smuggling tunnels linking the Sinai Peninsula to the Gaza Strip. Hamas operatives had before and during the Egyptian campaign sought to embed their smuggling infrastructure within civilian structures and facilities, complicating efforts by both the Egyptians and the Israelis to insulate their anti-Hamas operations from impacting local populations.
The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday reported that hundreds of houses are slated for destruction and that the measure should put a stop to further construction of smuggling tunnels:
Over 800 houses and 10,000 residents have been surveyed, said the unidentified sources. Residents were offered financial compensation, land or housing in exchange for their evacuation. The army intends to continue destroying tunnels in the buffer zone and dig a deep trench in order to attempt to put an end to the phenomenon, Al-Youm Al-Sabaa reported on Tuesday. The initial dimensions of the trench will be 14 kilometers in length and 500 meters wide, but is planned to be as wide as three kilometers in the final stage.
The moves come in the wake of intelligence assessments, aired publicly by Egyptian officials, identifying Hamas-controlled territory as a hub for Sinai jihadist training in general, and more specifically as the location from which last week’s attack was orchestrated. One Egyptian source went so far as to assert that there was “no doubt that Palestinian elements had taken part in the attacks.” The unfolding dynamic, which has set back long-troubled Egyptian-Hamas ties, has among other things led Cairo to call off formal ceasefire talks aimed at cementing the end of last summer’s war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas-led Palestinian terror groups.
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