THE LEVANT EXCLUSIVE – By Julia Lugovska -Egyptian Army starts evacuation of the residents of Northern Sinai near the Gaza border in Rafah in accordance with the recent government’s plans of creation the buffer zone in the area in order to continue special military operation against the Sinai based jihadists and militants.
The decision to clear the area and to create the buffer zone came after the recent terrorist attacks against Egyptian Army have left nearly 40 soldiers dead during the latest week, and President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has declared state of emergency in Northern Sinai and launching military operation aimed to eliminate terrorist activity in the region.
The evacuation process has started on Tuesday, 28b October, as local residents were given the time to clear up the territories, but the plan was delayed due to the protests held by some locals in the area. Egyptian officials and Army authorities’ representatives have held several meetings and consultations with the local tribes’ leaders and local authorities as well in order to set up a compensation plan for the affected families.
The evacuation zone, where the buffer zone is about to be created, will eventually be 500 meters west of the Rafah border crossing and an nearly 13,8 kilometers to the south, along the Gaza border. All the houses and families in the area should be evacuated, as the state offers financial support and compensations for the families, forced to leave their lands and houses.
A number of houses have been already evacuated, with some residents moving to their relatives’ houses.
North Sinai governor Abdel-Fattah Harhour has declared earlier that meeting has been held with the families facing evacuation and that there is a state plan of compensation for these people. Mr. Harhour said that 65% of the evacuated families requested financial support from the government, while 29% asked for the land pieces in Al-Arish and the neighboring areas as a compensation in addition to the monetary compensation.
Mr. Harhour also noted that there are 1165 families in the border area, living in 802 houses. All of them, except of 78 houses with the tunnels underneath them, will be compensated by state. An anonymous military source told the reporters that the evacuation plan will cost Egypt around LE 250 million.
Local residents express different stances over the evacuation and buffer zone plans. Some of them supported the plans and claimed that local authorities were notified about this government’s plan nearly two months ago, while some other locals were angered over the short notice for evacuation.
Meanwhile, as evacuation of the local residents have been held by the state authorities, Egyptian Armed Forces have started demolishing the houses in the area and destroying the underground tunnels system within the framework of the military operation and the government’s plans. Most of the buildings in the area, including residential houses, several mosques and school, are planned to be destroyed according to the plans.
The Armed Forces Engineering Authority will then start forming the buffer zone on the border.
Though, as the reaction over the creating of the buffer zone along the Gaza border in Northern Sinai and evacuation of the residents received controversial comments and reactions in Egyptian society, the Armed Forces and governmental plan received international support. Thus, US officially supported Egyptian military operation, claiming that Egypt has the right to create buffer zone in the area in order to restore security and peace in Sinai.