As Sinai tribes held a celebration at Cairo International Stadium in support of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Province of Sinai group posted photos of the execution of two North Sinai residents, one of whom was a former government employee. Meanwhile, there was an unprecedented mobilization of security forces in areas west of Arish, after officials received information on the Province of Sinai’s intent to carry out an attack in the vicinity of the village of Rawda. Arbitrary bullets and shells continue to claim the lives of Sinai residents. Security agencies also raised the state of emergency in North Sinai in anticipation of escalation in the Gaza Strip and the possibility that Palestinians will storm the border, following the announcement of the United States-sponsored “deal of the century.”
Following the official announcement of US President Donald Trump’s Israel-Palestine plan on Tuesday evening, officials in North Sinai raised the threat level in North Sinai to its highest point, according to an official in the governorate, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity.
Late Tuesday night, high-level military and intelligence leaders congregated in one of the governorate’s security bureaus, the source said, where they demanded that security forces be on high alert in anticipation of developments in the Gaza Strip. The officials also discussed the possibility of Palestinians storming the border with Egypt and making their way deep into Egyptian territory, the source added.
In preparation for a potential storming of the border, the supply directorate in North Sinai was ordered to ensure that there was sufficient supply of basic commodities, notably rice, pasta, bread and gas cylinders, according to the source. The director of the North Sinai branch of the Red Crescent was also brought in and directed to formulate a plan to provide accommodation tents in coordination with the social solidarity and youth and sports ministries. The source emphasized that a direct order was sent to the water facility in Arish to fill up all tankers and have them standing by at all times.
According to the source, in the event that the border was stormed, officials had received strict instructions to set up accommodation tents in the city of Rafah or Sheikh Zuwayed, which were to house any Palestinian who crossed in to Egypt, thereby preventing them from making their way further into Sinai toward the city of Arish, the capital of the governorate.
The source noted that the governorate’s capabilities to prepare for such an event are somewhat limited, stating that there would likely be assistance from other governorates if a crisis were to occur.
Last Tuesday, Province of Sinai, the Islamic State affiliate in Egypt, posted photos allegedly documenting the execution of a former government employee named Othman Moussa, whom the group described as a “spy for the Egyptian army.”
Moussa was kidnapped at the beginning of January while on a farm he owns in the Gaal area south of Bir al-Abd. He later appeared in photos, where he could be seen crouching in a desert area with a masked person dressed in black standing behind him firing an automatic weapon.
In its newsletter, Al-Nabaa, the group justified the killing of Moussa, who previously worked as the director of supplies in the city of Bir al-Abd, by stating that he carried out instructions from security forces to prevent the sale of large quantities of food commodities to North Sinai residents in order to prevent them from reaching militants. Additionally, the newsletter claimed that Moussa attended meetings with security leaders at a camp in Bir al-Abd.
This is the first time the Province of Sinai has provided a justification for an execution. The execution of Moussa may be an escalation in the threat that government officials responsible for logistics in the governorate face.
After Moussa was executed and photos of the incident were posted online, his relatives tried to locate his body in order to arrange a funeral. However, according to a source close to the family who spoke to Mada Masr, these attempts failed, as they had no information outside the Province of Sinai’s photos.
The announcement of the killing of Moussa, a Bir al-Abd native, came days after the Province of Sinai posted a video allegedly showing the execution of Suleiman Mutawie, a man from Sheikh Zuwayed.
Mutawie was kidnapped from the village of Qabr Umayr, west of the city of Sheikh Zuwayed, on December 25. Three of his family members were injured in the scuffle that led to his kidnapping, with one considered to be in critical condition due to a gunshot wound to the chest, a local source and a doctor told Mada Masr at the time.
Qabr Umair is one of the few remaining Sheikh Zuwayed villages where a handful of families have refused to abandon their homes. The village residents have strong ties to the Armed Forces, according to local sources, a fact that makes them targets for the Province of Sinai.
Before Mutawie was executed, the group filmed him making a “confession.” In the video, Mutawie is dressed in orange and says that he received orders from an intelligence officer with the border guard to inform security forces of anything he saw related to militant activity. Mutawie then goes on to detail how he reported the location of explosive devices, smuggling operations, and women and children who clandestinely moved between checkpoints. The video ends with Mutawie on his knees and a masked person wearing a camouflage military uniform and speaking in a Bedouin accent behind him. The masked man then shoots Mutawie from behind with an automatic weapon.
The Province of Sinai’s announcement of the executions of Moussa and Mutawie was its third such statement last month. The group also claimed responsibility for the execution of a man and shooting a boy south of Bir al-Abd at the beginning of January.
Last Tuesday, the Province of Sinai posted a photo of a drone that crashed south of the city of Bir al-Abd.
In the photo posted by the group, the small drone can be seen in a desert area surrounded by an olive farm. There are no signs of damage resulting from gunshots or a guided missile that would have brought the drone down, nor signs that it fell for other reasons, a suggestion corroborated by the fact that the the group used the term “crashed” instead of “shot down” in its announcement. The Egyptian Armed Forces spokesperson has not commented on the incident so far. According to social media focused on military affairs and weapons identification, the drone was an RQ-20 Puma tactical UAV, a small, hand-launched reconnaissance model.
The drone crashed last Tuesday, two weeks after Egypt’s military spokesperson announced that a fighter jet had crashed during a training flight. According to the statement, the pilot was killed in the crash. However, the spokesperson did not reveal the reason behind the crash or the location of the crash site.
However, the Province of Sinai stated that the F16 fighter jet crashed in the village of Naga Shabana, outside the city of Rafah. The group did not claim responsibility for the incident, however, echoing the military spokesperson’s language and calling it a crash.
On the morning of the crash, the skies above the border cities of Rafah, Sheikh Zuwayed and Arish were full of fighter jets. Residents told Mada Masr that they could hear the buzzing of planes at low altitudes and the sound of explosives, especially, in Sheikh Zuwayed. The military spokesperson later announced that drills took place as part of the “Qader 2020 Maneuvers” in north and central Sinai. The second and third field armies participated and carried out raids with the help of the Air Force.
This is not the first time a jet has fallen from the skies of North Sinai. In 2014, a reconnaissance helicopter crashed, and its five-member crew were killed south of Sheikh Zuwayed. Ansar Beit al-Maqdes, the militant group that would later declare allegiance to the Islamic State and rebrand as the Province of Sinai, claimed responsibility, posting a video showing the jet shot down by a guided missile.
In 2014, a drone crashed in the Gilbana village, adjacent to Bir al-Abd in western North Sinai. The year 2015 saw two incidents of a similar kind, with the first coming when a drone crashed in the village of Mazar near Bir al-Abd, and the second when a drone crashed in the village of Qabr Umayr outside Sheikh Zuwayed.
Although the Province of Sinai has only taken responsibility for downing military aircraft in the 2014 incident, the group has shown in the past few years that it has advanced weapons that can be used to shoot down planes. It did so in the large attack it carried out in Sheikh Zuwayed on July 1, 2015, when it posted photos of militants targeting a helicopter with a guided missile. In 2019, after the attack on the Batal 14 checkpoint south of Arish, the group posted photos of the attack featuring an armed militant carrying a 9K32 Strela-2 (SA-7 Grail) anti-aircraft missile launcher.
A military sergeant and two privates were killed, while five other military personnel were injured, in attacks last week that included explosions that targeted military vehicles and armed clashes in the cities of Rafah and Sheikh Zuwayed.
According to a security and medical source, the bodies of three members of the Armed Forces arrived at Arish Military Hospital on January 26. They were killed when an improvised explosive device detonated near a military vehicle that had left the Saha military camp in the city of Rafah and was traveling along the desert road between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
According to the sources, five soldiers were transported to medical facilities from separate areas in Sheikh Zuwayed and Rafah after they were injured in incidents involving the IEDs and clashes with militants on January 25.
News websites published photos from the funerals of three Armed Forces officers: Mohamed Mohamed Ali from the village of Abu Suwayer in the Ismailia governorate, Mohamed Nasser al-Rashidy from the village of Dessouq in Kafr al-Sheikh, and Mohamed Abdel Wahab from Malawy in Minya.
Over the course of last week, the Province of Sinai claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in Rafah and Sheikh Zuwayed, ranging from IED blasts targeting military vehicles to armed clashes and sniper operations.
The militant organization also announced that two of its members, Abu Malek al-Ghazy and Abu Yehia al-Ghazy, were killed. The kunyas in the militants’ names indicates that they were Palestinians. The group did not reveal how they were killed.
The post announcing the death of the two militants also included the image of Emad Yousef al-Quqa, news of whose death circulated in December amid claims that he was killed in an Israeli airstrike in North Sinai.
The social media posts claimed that Emad was the son of Abu Youssef al-Qoqa, the former commander of the Nasser Salah al-Din Brigades, the military wing of the Popular Resistance Committees, who was killed in a special operation by the Israeli military in 2006.
According to Palestinian news sites, Emad was arrested in 2015 by Hamas and sentenced to seven years in prison, after he was accused of detonating an explosive device near a Hamas security building.
Last Thursday, the Arish-Bir al-Abd International Road was suddenly closed, remaining shut for six hours after security agencies received information about the Province of Sinai’s intent to carry out armed attacks in the vicinity of Rawda, a village located between the two cities, according to a security source who spoke to Mada Masr.
Local sources confirmed to Mada Masr that there was an extensive deployment of heavy, military vehicles and ground forces in a number of villages to the west of Arish, the most important of which were Mazar, Rawda, Toloul and Sadat. These villages also witnessed unprecedented security mobilization, as forces rained heavy fire and arterially shells on the southern, desert hinterlands. Local sources told Mada Masr that military units were seen on patrol deep within southern, desert areas.
The extensive deployment of the Armed Forces may have thwarted a possible attack in subsequent days. But all did not go well, especially after two young men from the Dawagra tribe were killed in the village of Amouriya by gunfire from an unknown source on Friday.
According to local sources, the two cousins were killed near the village during the security mobilization amid heavy artillery shelling and raining bullets.
The death of the men in Amouriya was preceded by another civilian casualty. On January 15, a young man was killed and another injured as they drove a pickup truck on the road connecting the city of Bir al-Abd and the Gaal area to the south.
A medical source told Mada Masr that the incident occurred near the military checkpoint in the Gaal area, adding that the truck was completely charred and that one of its passengers died instantly, while doctors had to amputate the feet of the other.
Amid the heightened security situation, security forces stationed at the police checkpoint in front of the village of Sadat, which falls under Bir al-Abd administrative area and is located about 60 kilometers southwest of Arish, have taken to closing the Arish-Bir al-Abd International Road at 1 am and reopening it at 6:30 am. This is the same timing for closures as the Midan checkpoint, the last military checkpoint west of Arish, which had been considered the western boundary of the curfew in North Sinai.
Security agencies established the police checkpoint in front of Sadat after three civilians were killed on the international road. The Province of Sinai claimed responsibility, posting photos of the incident.
Last Friday, the Cairo International Stadium hosted a celebration called “One People, One Hand, One Nation.” The event was organized by the Council of Egyptian Tribes and Families and was broadcast on most TV channels in Egypt.
In North Sinai, this celebration did not come as a surprise to residents, given that, for several months, preparations have been underway to transport as many young people as possible to the Cairo stadium for the celebration. People were enticed to attend by rumors that pop star Amr Diab would perform at the event.
Preparations were not limited to North Sinai residents. Those who have been displaced due to the conflict in the peninsula to the governorates of Ismailia and Sharqiya were also targeted, with cars provided for transport to the stadium. Mobilization efforts extended as far as Cairo, according to a source close to celebration organizers who spoke to Mada Masr. The source noted that the businessman and Sinai native Ibrahim al-Agrany directly supervised the organization of the celebration.
Last Thursday, Friday and Saturday, those looking to travel outside the governorate by taxi were hard pressed to find one. According to the source, this was because event organizers rented all taxis and transported roundtrip hundreds of youth from North Sinai to Cairo, so they could attend the celebration free of charge.
According to a source who attended the celebration, organizers inside the stadium distributed hundreds of flags and photos of President Sisi. After the celebration ended, they distributed thousands of meals.