This is the Tale of Two Cities: Old Rafah, and New Rafah – that is, the Egyptian half of the Gaza city that currently straddles the border with Egypt, and the one soon to be on the drawing boards of /Egyptian engineers.
North Sinai District Governor Abd al-Fattah Harour told journalists at a news briefing Wednesday that Egypt has decided to raze Rafah to the ground – at least, the part that exists on Egypt’s side of the border.
“A new Rafah city is being established with residential zones appropriate to the nature and traditions of the residents of Rafah,” Harour said, according to the Ma’an news agency.
He confirmed that engineering units have already been authorized to begin work on the project.
Egypt is currently evacuating some 2,044 families from 1,220 homes located on a stretch of land along the border with Gaza. The families are to be compensated for the loss of their homes and also will receive additional funds with which to rent new accommodations until they can find new places to live.
The evacuation is being carried out in preparation for creation of a wider buffer zone between Egypt and Gaza. Original plans a year ago called for a buffer of 500 meters; the current buffer zone is to measure at least a kilometer wide.
However, this latest development has come about because the existence of the city of Rafah still constitutes a military weak point for Egypt vis a vis Gaza and Hamas, as it does for Israel.
Rafah is also the sole international crossing which is not under Israel’s control and which remains vulnerable to seizure by international terrorists. (In Jordan, the sole crossing with Iraq was shut down last year after the Iraq side was seized by terrorists from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). European monitors in Rafah who were supposed to remain at the site to “keep the peace” and maintain its neutrality abandoned their posts at the first sign of danger years ago.
On January 23, 2008 Hamas blew a hole in the security barrier built in 2003 near the Rafah crossing, destroying a significant part of the wall. The United Nations estimated that as many as 750,000 Gazans flooded through that hole into Egypt from that day forward until the breach was repaired, 11 days later. Many came to shop for food and supplies, but several thousand were also wanted terrorists; Israel Police raised the alert in the Jewish State knowing it was likely these “shoppers” were also purchasing “supplies.”
Gaza’s ruling Hamas terrorist organization was spawned by Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood organization. The group has sparked endless anti-government attacks in Egypt, and developed alliances with other groups, leading to further problems.
During the recent brief reign of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s predecessor, Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohammed Morsi and his Islamist-majority parliament, Sinai became saturated with radical Islamist terrorists.
Terror groups such as the Al Qaeda-linked Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which recently swore allegiance to ISIS, grew there exponentially. Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda-linked Army of Islam Salafis also planted bases in Sinai as well.
In particular, Hamas honeycombed the area under the border in Rafah with tunnels which they used for smuggling military supplies and luxury items into Gaza – and terrorists out, in to Sinai and elsewhere.
It is this activity the Cairo government is determined to end. Egypt’s security personnel have destroyed hundreds of terrorist tunnels over the past 18 months, but they are often rebuilt when Hamas obtains new supplies.
As international aid organizations bring concrete and other building materials into the enclave to “help” the poverty stricken Palestinian Authority residents rebuild their homes, Hamas confiscates the items to reconstruct their terror tunnel network. It’s an expensive project: each tunnel costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to build.
Hana Levi Julian