A report released by the Human Rights Watch on Tuesday has highlighted the plight of civilians living in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, who face eviction from their homes as the army pursues militants allegedly linked to Al Qaeda.
According to the report, 3,200 families were evicted from their homes and farms in the past two years as the Egyptian military clears land in order to target tunnels running under the border with Gaza.
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Egypt has been destroying the tunnels since late 2013 after the country’s first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi was deposed in a military coup led by then-army general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who later went on to become president himself after leading a crackdown on anti-coup protesters.
The army has also been engaging militants in northern Sinai who they accuse of having links to Gaza’s Hamas movement, an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood movement from which deposed President Morsi hails.
After the coup, Hamas was accused of meddling in Egypt’s domestic affairs and supporting militants against the Egyptian army - both accusations Hamas has repeatedly denied.
Nevertheless, Egypt has been working to expand its buffer zone along the Gaza Strip, demolishing entire villages in the process. Egypt has also recently started building fish farms along the border, thus flooding the few remaining tunnels, upon which 1.8 million Palestinians living under blockade in the Gaza Strip rely on for trade.
"Destroying homes, neighborhoods and livelihoods is a textbook example of how to lose a counterinsurgency campaign," said Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson warned.
"The Egyptian authorities provided residents with little or no warning of the evictions, no temporary housing, mostly inadequate compensation for their destroyed homes — none at all for their farmland."
The report also claimed that US-made weapons were being used by the Egyptian military to destroy buildings, and urged the US to investigate, while advising Egypt not to fight militants in Sinai “in a way that does not arbitrarily harm civilians and violate their right to housing and their protections during forced evictions."