Egypt has evicted and demolished the homes of 3,200 families in the Sinai peninsula in violation of international law, Human Rights Watch says, BBC reports. The military has been razing homes along the border with the Gaza Strip to create a “buffer zone” and eliminate smuggling tunnels. The demolitions began in 2013 after a surge in attacks by jihadist militants.
But those evicted are given little or no warning, no temporary housing and inadequate compensation, HRW alleges. The US-based group also questions why the military appears not to have used available technology to detect and destroy the smuggling tunnels. The Egyptian authorities have not commented on the report.
So far, the military has destroyed nearly all buildings and farmland within about 1km (0.6 miles) of the Gaza border in North Sinai using uncontrolled explosives and earth-moving equipment, according to analysis of satellite imagery, videos and interviews with residents by HRW detailed in a new report released on Tuesday. Dozens of buildings more than 1km from the frontier have also been demolished.
Egypt aims to eventually clear an area of about 79 sq km on the Gaza border, including all of the town of Rafah, which has a population of about 78,000 people, HRW says. The government says the operation will allow the military to close smuggling tunnels it alleges are used by militants affiliated with Islamic State (IS) to receive weapons, fighters and logistical support from Palestinian groups in Gaza.
But HRW said little or no evidence had been offered to support this justification, citing statements from Egyptian and Israeli officials that suggested the jihadists’ heavy weapons were more likely to have been obtained from Libya or captured from the Egyptian military. HRW also said the authorities had 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 – and no effective way to challenge official decisions.
It concluded that such actions violated protections for forcibly evicted residents laid out in UN and African conventions to which Egypt is a party, and might also have violated the laws of war. HRW said the government had also failed to explain why troops had not used sophisticated tunnel-detecting equipment, for which they have received training from the US, to find and eliminate tunnels without destroying people’s homes.
Jihadist militants based in North Sinai stepped up their attacks after the military overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013. More than 3,600 people, including civilians, security personnel and militants, have since been killed, HRW cited media reports and government statements as saying.