NGOs slam Egypt for detroying Sinai homes in anti-Islamic State fight

Egypt’s government has forcibly evicted 3,200 families in the Sinai Peninsula since it came to power in 2013, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. The US-based NGO who accuses the Egyptian military of violating international law by carrying out the house demolitions.

Clashes between Egyptian soldiers and Islamic State group jihadists in northern Sinai , seen from Rafah , July 2, 2015 .
Clashes between Egyptian soldiers and Islamic State group jihadists in northern Sinai , seen from Rafah , July 2, 2015 . AFP/Said Khatib

The area of buildings earmarked for destruction is adjacent to the Gaza Strip. The government says fighters and weapons are smuggled from the Gaza Strip to the Sinai through tunnels in this area and in response is removing all the buildings that may be giving cover to these smuggling routes.

Dossier: Gaza 2009

These plans were put in place, but not acted on, under former president Hosni Mubarak. When the military took over in 2013 they went ahead with blowing up the homes, as the Islamist insurgency in the region grew in strength.

Attacks in the Sinai Peninsula, claimed by groups such as the Islamic State affiliate that used to go by the name Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, have targeted military and police officials in an insurgency the Islamists say is a response to a crackdown on their operations.

However, many analysts and experts agree that weapons arriving in the Sinai are actually coming from a different route - not south from Gaza but from Libya.

“Groups in Gaza are trying to smuggle weapons in, not out,” Riad Kawaji, the director of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai told RFI.

“The Egyptians are the only ones to claim this is happening,” he claimed.

The part of northern Sinai concerned is off limits to journalists and human rights workers, making it difficult to get accurate information from the ground.

"It is hard to know how many families have been affected so far… Our analysis of satellite pictures show 3,200 structures being destroyed," Nadim Houry, Human Rights Watch’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director, told RFI.

Human Rights Watch believes this is just the tip of the iceberg. Over 90,000 people live in the area that the government still has plans to destroy.

The group says these home demolitions violate international law by not distinguishing between militarised and civilian populations and not giving people the opportunity to challenge the eviction orders in court. In some cases the group reports families being given as little as 48 hours notice to leave their homes.

They allege that the government has sophisticated tunnel-detecting technology, which the military have been trained to use by the United States, but that so far they have failed to explain why they have not put this equipment to use to detect and destroy the tunnels instead of bulldozing and blowing up these homes.

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