Egypt ramps up home demolitions in Sinai campaign: HRW

Beirut: Egypt’s army has drastically stepped up its demolitions of homes, businesses and farms in the Sinai since launching a widespread campaign against Islamist militants in February, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday. A military spokesman denied the allegations in the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, telling AFP that the group’s information came from “undocumented sources” and insisting that residents were being compensated.

The watchdog said it documented at least 3,000 homes and commercial properties destroyed in the peninsula, where Egypt has battled a long-running jihadist insurgency, as well as 600 razed just before the latest military operation. “Turning people’s homes into rubble is part of the same self-defeating security plan that has restricted food and movement to inflict pain on Sinai residents,” said HRW’s Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson.

“The Egyptian army claims it is protecting people from militants, but it’s absurd to think that destroying homes and displacing lifelong residents would make them safer.”

The New York-based group said the demolitions and forced evictions, near the border with the Gaza Strip in northern Sinai, was making an already perilous humanitarian situation worse.

It said it has sent letters to the defence ministry and the local governor over the demolitions but had yet to receive a response.

The military spokesman said the armed forces were carrying out legal procedures “in accordance with the presidential decisions regarding the establishment of a buffer zone on the border”.

The authorities have compensated residents with “more than 900 million Egyptian pounds ($50 million)”, he said.

The armed forces had also supplied “basic goods and administrative and medical needs to citizens… and trucks loaded with food”.

Around 200 jihadists and at least 33 soldiers have been killed since the military launched its operation against the Islamic State group, according to official figures.