The Egyptian government started demolishing houses and cultivated land in the North Sinai city of Rafah on Wednesday, as it launched the third stage of its plan to construct a buffer zone along the Rafah-Gaza border. The new section is expected to measure 1.5 kilometers.
A resident from the border city of Rafah told Mada Masr, speaking on condition of anonymity, that 40 houses were demolished and 60 feddans of cultivated lands were bulldozed. The source expects the Imam Ali and Ahrash districts of Rafah to be demolished: “After this demolition, Safa will be all that is left of Rafah, alongside some areas dedicated to housing government employees and a few random plots of land with a limited number of houses.”
A meeting with residents was held in the North Sinai governorate’s headquarters, according to the source, who added that they were not told how they would be compensated for demolished property.
The Egyptian government initiated construction of the buffer zone in October 2014, displacing thousands of North Sinai residents, following a series of attacks targeting security personnel in the area. This included one notable attack by the militant group Province of Sinai, then known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdes, on the Karm al-Qawadees checkpoint that same month.
At the time, the Armed Forces announced that the campaign was part of a larger plan to eradicate terrorist cells in the region and prevent the smuggling of arms into the Sinai Peninsula.
The plan’s early stages included the demolition of tunnels running from Sinai to the blockaded Gaza Strip and the creation of a 14 kilometer long, 500-meter-deep section of the buffer zone, which was later expanded by 500 meters. This was later broadened by a further 500 meters, leaving a 1.5 kilometer deep stretch of land by the Rafah border completely evacuated of residents, who were promised financial compensation.
The government initially pledged a compensation package worth LE 1 billion for the displaced residents of Rafah, however, according to some reports, the full amount was not dispensed to all displaced people.
The Gaza-based Hamas movement started construction on a similar buffer zone inside Gaza in June of this year, on the heels of an Egyptian-Palestinian agreement to enforce stricter border surveillance along the border.