For the first time since the signing of the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel in 1979, the Egyptian armed forces deployed army tanks around the cities of Arish, Sheikh Zuwaid and Rafah over the weekend.
The deployment was part of a broader armed forces initiative announced last week, aimed at re-establishing central government control over the Governorate of North Sinai, which has seen a spike in insurgent and criminal activities since the January uprising in Egypt. Under the initiative, military and police forces, including two brigades of special forces, were deployed to the cities of Arish, Sheikh Zuwaid and Rafah for the first time since the 25 January uprising.
The sight of army tanks on the streets of the border town of Rafah was a new one to many local residents. Under the provisions of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of 1979, the area near the border (known as Area C) is demilitarized, and weaponry and military equipment are prohibited.
An official source said that Israeli authorities agreed to the entry of Egyptian armed forces to Rafah for a specific period in order to restore security in the border area.
Yahya Abu Nasira, a political activist and Rafah town resident said, "The most significant thing in this operation is the arrival of Egyptian troops to Area C. This brings great joy to all Sinai residents."
Major General Ahmed Gamal al-Din, assistant minister of interior for public security, said security would be imposed by force in Sinai if necessary.
During his meeting with Sinai tribal chiefs at the North Sinai Security Department on Saturday evening, Gamal al-Din warned that foreign agents were tampering with Sinai’s security and attempting to drag it into a civil war.
Gamal al-Din called on the tribal chiefs to cooperate with the police to ensure the success of the operation against what he described as “outlaws”.
The general went on to say that the Interior Ministry would clamp down on anyone tampering with Sinai’s security, saying: “I warn anyone thinking of putting my officers’ lives at risk; they will have no one to blame but themselves.”
He went on to say that the attack on Arish police station on 29 July was not the work of Salafis. “Other non-Salfi elements were involved. We know them by name, identified them and we will arrest them,” he said.
He also denied the existence of any alleged al-Qaeda groups in Sinai.
Translated from the Arabic Edition