Egypt begins clearing Sinai residents along Gaza border

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Egypt began clearing residents from its border with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday to create a secure buffer zone, Reuters reported.

A day after being ordered by the army to move, many in the area had already packed their belongings and left when an announcement from Cairo made the eviction official.

General Abdel Fattah Harhour, the governor of northern Sinai, told journalists that the departing residents would be compensated for their lost homes.

It also accelerated plans to create a 500-metre deep buffer zone by clearing houses and trees and destroying tunnels it says are used to smuggle arms from Gaza to militants in Sinai.

Residents in the area are given three options: monetary compensation for their property, an apartment in a nearby village or a plot of land on which to build.

Each displaced family is due to receive LE900 ($125) to help pay for rent elsewhere for three months, Harhour said, while compensation for lost property is being calculated.

Border residents say about 680 houses are set to be demolished. Security forces had previously destroyed around 200 houses on the border after discovering entrances to smuggling tunnels leading into the Gaza Strip inside residences.

Security sources said residents living within 300 metres (yards) of the border were being evicted in the first phase of the plan. The next phase will cover another 200 metre strip.

Residents of Gaza say they rely on the tunnels for their livelihoods. But Egyptian security forces see them as a security threat and regularly destroy them.

As well as clearing a border strip, a presidential decree was issued on Monday to refer those accused of crimes against the state’s vital public facilities to military prosecution, including civilians.

Egypt’s most active Sinai-based terrorist group, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, are inspired by the Islamic State, an Al-Qaeda offshoot now targeted by US-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. Attacks against security forces and state facilities have increased since Islamist President Mohamed Morsi’s overthrow.

Egypt declared a state of emergency in the border area after 31 security personnel were killed on Friday in two attacks in the Sinai Peninsula, a remote but strategic region bordering Israel, Gaza and the Suez Canal.

A commander from Ansar has told Reuters that the Islamic State has advised it on operating more effectively.