Mideast: Sinai powderkeg, alarm over Al Qaeda infiltration

Rockets hit Eilat, Egypt seeks to reassure Israel

17 April, 18:14

    (ANSAmed) - CAIRO, APRIL 17 - Rocket launching at the Israeli city of Eilat by a Sinai-based jihadist group indicates the situation in the Egyptian peninsula bordering the two countries is becoming ever more explosive. The Sinai has gained a reputation for being a no-man's land, subject to raids by Salafi cells and jihadists in the north and Bedouin tribes involved in trafficking in the south. There are six main extremist organizations operating in the Sinai, including the Partisans of Jerusalem, whose armed wing Majlis Shura al Mujahideen (Consultative Council of the Mujahideen) has said it was behind the attacks on Eilat, a popular Israeli seaside resort town on the Red Sea. The groups are linked with Palestinian Salafis in the Gaza Strip. Jihadist cells - including ones linked to Al Qaeda - have gained an ever larger foothold in northern Sinai since Egypt's January 25, 2011 uprising, which coincided with a collapse of security across the entire country. Local sources say that many of the jihadists now in the Sinai escaped from Egyptian prisons in the tumultuous days of the uprising which put an end to the thirty-year rule of Hosni Mubarak. Security in the Sinai has been made even more fragile by clauses in the country's peace treaty with Israel, which calls for partial demilitarization of the zone. Despite these limitations and after a temporary exception approved by Israel, the Egyptian armed forces have stepped up their presence and their numbers in the zone since August 2012, after an attack on a border post in which 16 Egyptian border guards lost their lives. Worsening the situation is weapons trafficking from Libya, which crosses through Egypt and is directed towards the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is in power.

    Southern Sinai instead has some of Egypt's most well-known beach resorts. Bedouins have for some time been known to kidnap foreigners and tourists for ransom money or to exchange them for relatives and friends being held in Egyptian jails (often on drug trafficking charges). The dangerous direction in the Sinai seems to be taking is sparking ever greater alarm in Israel. Netanyahu's government opted to build a 'security barrier' along the Egyptian border months ago. After the Wednesday attack, President Morsi and the Egyptian armed forces sought to quell the concerns of their 'neighbors', stressing that Israel should not see Egypt as a threat. (ANSAmed).

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