Gazans have been watching impassively on their side of the border as Egyptian troops demolished Rafah homes to make way for a military buffer zone.
Few are serene about the turn of events that will greatly reduce, if not entirely eliminate the possibility of smuggling anything in or out of Egypt via tunnels under the border near Rafah. That includes the normal goods of daily life, as well as the weapons and other items imported to expand the arsenal of Gaza’s terrorist infrastructure.
Security has been raised to its highest alert level in the area after a bomb exploded Monday near Egyptian troops as they worked. No one was wounded in the attack, but troops are on their guard.
On October 24, 31 Egyptian soldiers were killed by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis terrorists. Since then, a state of emergency was declared for the town of Rafah – which straddles Egypt’s border with Gaza – and its surrounding areas. Ansar Bayt al-Maqis is linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) terrorist organizations.
The buffer zone, to be 500 meters (550 yards) wide, will run along the 13-kilometer (8 mile) Egyptian border with Gaza, starting from northern Sinai and extending to the Mediterranean Sea.
Thus far some 300 homes have already been razed to the ground, with at least 500 left to go. The project is expected to displace more than 10,000 Egyptian citizens who are to be compensated by the government for the loss of their homes and any businesses or livelihoods they were forced to leave behind.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called on Egyptians to unite with him to fight the terrorists who threaten the security of the nation and have essentially transformed the Sinai Peninsula into their personal stronghold.
“This is our battle, all of us,” he said in comments following last week’s attack on the military. “The battle of all Egyptians.”
The government has allocated up to one billion Egyptian pounds (nearly $140 million) in compensation funds for those whose homes were demolished.
“We won’t forget their sacrifice,” el-Sisi said.