Stray bullets, explosions and car collisions at security checkpoints continue to plague residents of North Sinai, while security officials are targeted by snipers. Meanwhile, the city of al-Arish has been suffering from a severe water crisis, and Sheikh Zuwayed is plagued by frequent power outages.
Civilians hit by stray bullets and explosions
Soliman Saad, a young man from a village in Bir al-Abd, was killed on Wednesday after a number of cars in the area were struck by heavy gunfire, according to residents and witnesses. The shooting came from the direction of an army checkpoint set up in the vicinity of al-Tofaha village, located west of Bir al-Abd city, residents and witnesses told Mada Masr.
The incident comes on the heels of a number of civilians being injured by stray bullets in Arish and Sheikh Zuwayed over the last few months, prompting North Sinai residents to launch a social media campaign under the hashtag #end_stray_bullets.
Wednesday’s shooting came just two days after several children were injured in an explosion in a residential area in Sheikh Zuwayed. According to local sources, the blast was triggered when a group of children found an object in a plastic bag on a sidewalk in al-Samanah district in the city center of Sheikh Zuwayed. Four children, including a two-year-old, were injured by shrapnel from the blast and are being treated at Arish Hospital.
An estimated 621 civilians were killed between July 2013 and mid-2017 by stray bullets and shelling from unknown sources, while another 1,247 were injured, according to statistics from the North Sinai Social Solidarity Directorate.
Unseen road barriers set up by authorities continue to claim lives
In addition to stray bullets and explosions, residents of North Sinai are also being killed and injured in car accidents caused by road barriers set up by authorities to divert traffic on the Arish-Qantara International Road.
Two civilians were killed on August 26 after their vehicle crashed into a road barrier that had been erected several days prior on the Arish-Qantara road in front of Sadat village, located east of Bir al-Abd.
Security forces began erecting road barriers to divert traffic earlier this year after the Province of Sinai — the Islamic State affiliate in the peninsula — took to setting up checkpoints on the road, kidnapping and killing civilians and officials passing through. The most recent of these incidents occurred on July 17, when four civilians were executed by Province of Sinai around the same area in front of Sadat village.
Bir al-Abd city council announced it had erected the road barrier to divert traffic near the village of Sadat on its official Facebook page on August 25. This marked the first instance where authorities publicly announced a road diversion since embarking on the strategy earlier this year.
Authorities use the road barriers to divert traffic closer to security checkpoints as a way to prevent militants from setting up their own checkpoints in blind spots along the road in order to target vehicles passing through.
While residents do not oppose the road diversions in principle, they have criticized authorities for setting them up without any prior notice or with any lights or signs indicating their presence. The Arish-Qantara road is poorly maintained and badly lit at night, which has led to several residents being killed in accidents at the road diversions.
Officer killed by a sniper in Rafah
Major Mahmoud Gamal was shot dead by a sniper at long range on August 24 while he was inspecting a number of checkpoints in the vicinity of Rafah, according to security sources. Province of Sinai claimed responsibility for the attack.
On the same day, army conscript Mahmoud Nada was shot dead by a sniper as he was standing at his post in central Sinai, according to the same security source.
Severe water shortage in Arish, frequent power outages in Sheikh Zuwayed, overcrowding at Bir al-Abd post office
Arish has been suffering from a severe water shortage across the city for nearly two months due to delays in water being pumped from the city’s main tanks, as well as reductions in the volume of water being pumped.
The crisis has sparked an uproar among residents, with many taking to social media to voice their discontent. Meanwhile, a letter sent by the operations department of the Company for Drinking Water and Sanitation’s Arish office addressed to the managing director of the company’s North and South Sinai division has been widely circulated on Facebook. The letter describes a more than threefold reduction in the amount of water supplied to Arish.
According to the letter, the city’s share of water was reduced twice over the last couple of months. The first reduction at the beginning of July brought the supply down from 35,000 cubic meters per day to 25,000 cubic meters per day, before being reduced again on August 3 to just 10,000 cubic meters per day.
A source from the company’s North Sinai division confirmed the authenticity of the letter to Mada Masr. According to the source, the city requires between 40,000 to 45,000 cubic meters of water per day to sufficiently service its residents. With its daily supply of 35,000 cubic meters, Arish was already suffering some degree of water shortage before it was drastically reduced over the summer.
In addition to the delays and reductions in the delivery of water, the source says the Armed Forces’ demand that all of its checkpoints in the vicinity of Arish be supplied with water is exacerbating the crisis by cutting into the amount available to residential areas.
The letter concludes by calling on the managing director to urgently intervene in order to avoid a major crisis in the city.
On the other hand, the neighboring city of Sheikh Zuwayed has not been supplied with water for almost seven years, with the city relying on underground water reservoirs extracted from wells that residents dig at their own expense. In addition, since early August, the city has been suffering from frequent power outages that can last for hours or entire days.
The city of Bir al-Abd also has its share of municipal problems. Post offices in villages in the area along the Arish-Qantara road were shut down over the summer after a post office in the village of al-Rawda was robbed by armed gunmen in July. This left the main post office in Bir al-Abd as the only working post office in an area that is home to an estimated 102,000 residents, according to the official website of North Sinai governorate, resulting in heavy overcrowding and long lines, especially on days when pension payments are released.
As a result, local residents have been calling for working hours at the main Bir al-Abd post office to be extended, or for a night shift from 5 pm to 8 pm to be added.
Festivities organized for children of the besieged al-Karama neighborhood
The North Sinai governorate organized a day of entertainment for the children of al-Karama neighborhood in Arish that included free lunches, beach activities and a tour of the city in a “taf taf,” a trackless open-air train. The Karama neighborhood has been under a heavy security lockdown since the Armed Forces and police launched Operation Sinai 2018 in February of last year.
Security forces have blocked all roads leading to the neighborhood, which is located on the southeastern desert outskirts of the city, cutting off access to all cars and public transportation. The neighborhood’s medical clinic and its main bakery were also shut down.
The neighborhood is located in an area that is home to several security facilities, including offices of the National Security Agency, the North Sinai Security Directorate, and Battalion 101 – the army’s headquarters of operations in North Sinai.