Against the backdrop of an increased military presence in North Sinai in the last month, the Armed Forces has requested the urgent deployment of medical reinforcements to the Sinai Peninsula and Ismailia hospitals, which have already begun to implement emergency measures, according to sources that spoke to Mada Masr on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.
During a recent meeting, a high-ranking military official asked that the Health Ministry prioritize surgeons and anesthetists and send them to the region within two days, according to a source from the ministry.
A large number of doctors were recently assigned to compulsory postings across Sinai, the source said. The ministry reportedly told the doctors, “Something is going to happen in the area in the next few days.” The doctors come from several governorates, including Cairo, Giza and Gharbiya, and were told their postings will last between one and three months.
The posting of additional medical personnel and requests for further reinforcements comes on the heels of emergency measures and the cancellation of staff leave, which were recently announced in Ismailia and Sinai hospitals, another medical source based in North Sinai told Mada Masr.
The announcement was concurrent with an “unusual increase” in the number of military vehicles in North Sinai, the medical source added.
The North Sinai Security Directorate has similarly recalled all staff members from vacation, according to a security source who works in the directorate. The directorate employee told Mada Masr late on Wednesday night that this was to ensure that it is operating at its full capacity within the space of several hours.
In January, sources told Mada Masr that additional Armed Forces equipment and reinforcements had arrived in Hassana, the closest central Sinai city to Arish, in preparation for an “unprecedented” military operation.
The Arish General Hospital recalled all staff who were on vacation and announced a state of emergency on Wednesday, according to another medical source from North Sinai. The Arish ambulance service also announced it was on alert and instructed all of the paramedics, drivers and medical personnel who had been on a 15-day break since February 1 to return to work.
The emergency hospital measures were implemented by the Health Ministry under the direct supervision of the Armed Forces and the Military Intelligence Directorate, according to a third medical source. All Ismailia-based doctors recalled from their vacations will be stationed at hospitals across the governorate, and 30 percent of hospitals’ regular capacities will be set aside and made ready to be on call, added the source, who is also from Ismailia.
The announcement that staff annual leave has been canceled for the next six months effective immediately was issued by Ismailia General Hospital’s General Manager Atef al-Samak on Tuesday.
The critical care department of the Ismailia Health Directorate also issued a letter to hospital managers in the governorate and Suez Canal area, ordering all hospitals to be on standby as of February 6 until further notice. The letter stated that all emergency equipment and supplies must be made available. Hospital managers were directed to double the number of emergency room staff and clear 30 percent of the beds in the general surgery, intensive care, orthopedics and burn units.
A swelling in the ranks of military reinforcements in North Sinai was first reported in January by the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, citing anonymous security officials. Equipment was sent to Arish, Sheikh Zuwayed and Rafah alongside officers specialized in tracking information and “dismantling terrorist cells.”
Tribal sources from North Sinai told Asharq Al-Awsat that the security reinforcements were deployed over the entire breadth of Sinai, as well as an area spanning up to 80 km to the east and along the peninsula’s North coast.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gave Armed Forces Chief of Staff Mohamed Farid Hegazy and Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar a three-month window within which to secure Sinai and eliminate militant groups in the area following the Rawda mosque attack. Armed militants attacked the Belal Mosque in the village of Rawda in North Sinai during Friday prayers on November 24, killing over 300 civilians.
Both ministers were targeted by a Province of Sinai attack in January, when the Islamic State-affiliated militant group fired mortar shells at the Arish airport during an official visit. A buffer zone spanning 5 km to the airports east, west and south and 1.5 km to the north has since been established.