The Armed Forces has been laying a barricade of barbed wire five kilometres from Egypt’s eastern border with Palestine over the last two weeks, according to eyewitnesses, in an attempt to separate the security buffer zone from the rest of Rafah City.
The barbed wire, which stretches one kilometer from the coastal area to the medical plants inside Rafah, is similar to that used at the border with Gaza.
The government began constructing a 14-kilometer-long, 500-meter-deep buffer zone in October 2014, displacing thousands of North Sinai residents in the process, after a series of attacks in the area, including one carried out by the militant group Province of Sinai on the Karm al-Qawadees checkpoint. The Armed Forces announced that the clearing of the buffer zone was part of a larger operation to rid the area of terrorist cells, demolish tunnels and prevent the smuggling of weapons and militants into Sinai.
The buffer zone was later expanded by another 500 meters, evacuating more Rafah residents from their homes, and promising them financial compensation. After clearing an area of 1,000 meters in two stages, work in the buffer zone halted, until last week, when the third stage of clearing commenced along the Rafah-Gaza border, projected to stretch 1.5 kilometers in total.
Rafah residents who spoke to Mada Masr expressed their hope that the barbed wire might mean the few remaining villages will be left alone and not demolished, as some families have remained through persistent power cuts, water shortages, road blockages, air and artillery strikes. The demolitions have been sporadic, they explain, sometimes only clearing parts of villages and neighborhoods.
The first and second phases of demolition included houses close to the border, which were completely removed, whereas the third phase has partially cleared the area. Some families chose to leave at least one family member on their land to ensure they would receive compensation and not be overlooked.
In 2016, the population of Rafah was estimated at 81,000, comprising 11 villages and 14 neighborhoods, 45 residential areas, and some 4,530 houses. Egyptian authorities have not released any official information on the buffer zone, or those who have been displaced. In 2016, it was reported by the governorate that the first two stages of demolition had included 2,090 houses.