New battle in Egyp’s Sinai after 31 years of peace

By Mohssen Arishie – The Egyptian Gazette
Friday, August 19, 2011 02:36:28 PM

El-ARISH – With tanks and armoured vehicles rumbling through North Sinai’s capital city of el-Arish, heads of big families and Bedouin tribes in the Peninsula are heaving a deep sigh of relief.

A convoy of Egyptian armoured vehicles heading along a road near el-Arish on the Sinai Peninsula to the city of Rafah on the Gaza border.

The mood in the Peninsula has changed to one of pride, after weeks of uncertainty over the Army’s reaction to armed attacks in el-Arish and the barricading of highways and roads.

The Army is now hunting down terrorist elements, who have allegedly crawled into Sinai through dark tunnels from the Gaza side of Rafah.
The unprecedented deployment of the Egyptian Army in Sinai is said to be the prelude to a large-scale military operation against Islamist militants and armed gangs, who have allegedly been planning to take the law into their own hands and declare Sinai an independent zone.

The threat of Islamist militants in Sinai grew after a gas pipeline travelling to Israel was bombed four times.

Ex-army generals, who have hailed the military move in Sinai, suspect that Israel may be pulling the strings behind the armed gangs in the Peninsula.
The military experts fear that Israel is trying to tarnish the image of the Egyptian Army by claiming that Sinai has spun out of control.

The threat to security and citizens in Sinai became clear, when more than 40 vans full of armed men paraded through the streets of el-Arish last month, before besieging the city’s police station.

Using loudspeakers, they broadcast their alleged connections with Al-Qaeda to terrified citizens trapped inside their homes, adding that they were determined to separate Sinai from the motherland.

These unknown gunmen fled, when they met with fierce resistance from soldiers and policemen.
Leaflets distributed in el-Arish claimed that they belonged to Al-Qaeda and were determined to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
The Governor of North Sinai has dismissed these allegations. But the alleged arrest of dozens of militants, including two close associates of the late Osama bin Laden, would suggest that Al-Qaeda was attempting to exploit the state of lawlessness in Egypt to destabilise Sinai and other areas.

A security strategist says that he wouldn’t be surpriseds, if Israel were providing logistical support to armed gangs and militants in Sinai.
General Sameh Seiful-Yazal, Director of Al-Gomhuria Centre for Security and Political Studies, believes that the situation in Sinai is provocatively worrying.

He refers to the two attacks in broad daylight within the space of a few months on the police station in el-Arish.
General Seiful-Yazal has become more concerned because the gas pipeline from Egypt to Israel and Jordan has now witnessed fourth terrorist attacks.
“Police officers have been abducted in Sinai,” he adds.

The nation’s patience ran out, when a Salafist (ultra-fundamentalist) group claimed sovereignty in different cities in the Peninsula, such as el-Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zewaid.

The Salafist group have provoked the ire of the generals in Cairo by ignoring laws and traditions in areas under their control and imposing their own outrageous rules.

Seiful-Yazal says that the instability in Sinai has prompted Israeli officials to claim that the Peninsula is now out of Egypt’s control.
“The Israeli Prime Minister and the chief of Israeli intelligence also claim that about 1,500 members of bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda have managed to infiltrate Sinai,” he adds, stressing that the deployment of Egyptian tanks and armoured vehicles in the Peninsula will pre-empt Israeli plans to intervene.

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