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Egyptian army launches campaign to create buffer zone on Gaza border

Feb. 15, 2014 9:21 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 19, 2014 4:36 P.M.)
CAIRO (Ma'an) -- Egyptian border forces destroyed 10 tunnels and seven homes in the Sinai on Saturday as part of new campaign to create a buffer zone along the border with the Gaza Strip that would extend 500 meters in some places.

The campaign began with a military operation in the border town of Rafah, where tunnels leading into the Gaza Strip were targeted in the neighborhoods of al-Brahma, al-Sarsuriya, Salahudeen, al-Helwat, and Zoraba, an Egyptian security source said.

The security source added that the tunnels were destroyed and the homes they were located in were subsequently blown up.

He explained that the move was part of a wider campaign to set up a buffer zone along the border with Gaza in Rafah that would extend 300 meters in populated areas and 500 meters in open areas.

The zone would potentially threaten dozens of homes in the city, which has been divided by the international border since the 1982 Camp David peace accord. Thousands were displaced in the early 2000s when Israel demolished homes to build a buffer zone on the Palestinian side.

The Egyptian security source also told Ma'an that Egyptian army forces on Saturday successfully foiled three explosive devices placed in military vehicles and armored cars in Sheikh Zuwaid, including two that were placed near the Sheikh Zuweid Hospital and a third on the road to a nearby village south of Sheikh Zuewid.

He added that army forces raided "militant strongholds" in the village of al-Kharuba south of Sheikh Zuweid and destroyed three homes and five "hideouts."

They also destroyed an olive grove that was reportedly used to hide militants following attacks taking place on the nearby road to Rafah International crossing.

Egyptian armed forces launched large scale military action against militants in the Sinai Peninsula earlier in September, in what officials described as the largest mobilization of force in the area since the 1973 war with Israel. The military action comes in the wake of rising instability and almost daily attacks in the region, following a July 3 coup by the Egyptian military which unseated President Mohammad Morsi.

Until July of this year, tunnels connecting Gaza to Egypt provided a vital lifeline for the territory amidst the otherwise crippling Israeli blockade. The blockade has been in place since 2006, and it has limited imports and exports and led to a major economic decline and wide-reaching humanitarian crisis.

Since the coup against Egyptian president Morsi in July, however, Egypt has strictly enforced the blockade and targeted the tunnels.

Egyptian Maj. Gen. Ahmad Ibrahim said in October that nearly 800 tunnels had been destroyed since the beginning of the year at that time, while Rafah officials estimated in September that these operations had demolished 95% of previously existing tunnels.
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