CAIRO — Tanks and armored vehicles flooded into the Sinai Peninsula on Friday as part of an effort by Egyptian security forces to secure the area, where a series of attacks have rocked the northern town of el-Arish and blasted pipelines that export gas to Israel.
Witnesses in North Sinai said the vehicles drove into el-Arish, Sheikh Zayid and up to Rafah, where there is a border crossing to the Gaza Strip. The move of more than 1,000 members of the military’s special forces, 250 armored vehicles and as many as 1,000 police officers is unprecedented, according to security officials. The area has long had a limit on the number of military personnel allowed in the peninsula based on a 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Hosni Mubarak’s government had been criticized by many Egyptians for the treaty with Israel and its unwillingness to open the Rafah border crossing to relieve Palestinians suffering from an Israeli blockade. Since Mubarak’s ouster on Feb. 11, Israel has grown concerned that its relationship with the border nation could change.
“The entire North Sinai area has been secured,” said Gen. Saleh al-Masri, head of security in North Sinai, in a phone interview. He would not say whether tanks were inside Rafah.
Military sources said the military movement, called Operation Eagle, was aimed at rooting out saboteurs who had attacked pipelines five times in recent months, the last time on July 30.
On Saturday, security forces flanked the exits and entrances of the cities in north Sinai, police stations and other sensitive areas. Since Egypt’s uprising, there has been little to no police presence in the area, which has been largely controlled by Bedouins who live there.
“The security reinforcement is aimed at protecting people, possessions, as well as the security headquarters,” North Sinai Governor Maj. Gen. Abdul Wahab Mabrouk told the state-run al-Ahram newspaper. “We are not here to fight our families in Sinai, and these forces are not going to fight in the Sinai mountains.”