Police at Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula have been attacked about 50 times by Palestinian armed groups and a local branch of al-Qaeda since the Jan. 25 uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak, an Egyptian daily reported citing a security source.
Certain areas, such as Sheikh Zuwayed, central Sinai and Rafah were now outside the control of security forces, Egypt’s al-Masry al-Youm quoted the source as saying.
The attacks, which were mainly focused on the mountains of central Sinai, were carried out by the Palestinian armed groups Jaljalat, Army of Islam, Ezz Eddin al-Qassam Brigades and al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, the source said.
According to the report published by al-Masry al-Youm, the assaults included 16 attacks on security checkpoints, three attacks on the second police station in the North Sinai capital of Arish, over 30 attacks on a Central Security Forces station, and four attacks on other Sinai police stations.
Members of the Palestinian armed groups usually have access to Sinai illegally.
“Sinai is now out of security control, and efforts exerted by the military and police forces have aimed to restore security, especially because a week ago Israel said Egypt is more dangerous to Israel than Iran, which the Jewish state accuses of trying to build nuclear weapons,” the security source told al-Masr al-Youm.
A week ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has turned into a “kind of Wild West” exploited by militants with Iranian help to smuggle in weapons and stage attacks on Israel.
The open desert border between Israel and Egypt was relatively quiet for three decades after they signed a peace treaty in 1979. But the Jewish state says that since the fall of Mubarak, Cairo has lost its grip on the desolate Sinai and tensions are rising.
To fend off infiltration, Israel is building a fence along the border with Egypt that it hopes to complete by the end of 2012. When finished, the barrier will run most of the 266 km (165 miles) from Eilat up to the Gaza Strip.
“One of the greatest concerns is the security vacuum in Sinai, and that militant groups now have a foothold [there] with the collapse of security in the region after the ouster of Mubarak,” the source said.
A number of armed robberies have also been carried out on mail delivery trucks in the Peninsula. In November, a mail truck traveling from central Sinai to Arish was attacked. In December, a sum of one million Egyptian pounds ($0.6 million) was stolen from the Rafah and Sheikh Zuwayed post offices. And in a third attack, three were killed and two injured, including a police officer. North Sinai Governor Major General Abdul Wahab Mabrouk’s car has been stolen.
Since the Jan. 25 uprising, the Rafah Central Security Forces station has been attacked over 30 times with no suspects being arrested. Few days ago, armed men in the city of Sheikh Zuwayed blocked the main road to prevent presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi from holding a campaign rally there, the report said.
The natural gas pipeline running to Israel and Jordan has been bombed for 14 times, while the perpetrators remain at large.
Sinai residents have complained that security forces in Arish have only been securing their headquarters, while ignoring the lives and properties of the residents.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said late on Monday that Egypt must take control of the rising unrest which is sweeping through the Sinai Peninsula if it wants to preserve the peace with Israel.
“We urge Egypt to contain the lawlessness in the Sinai Peninsula -- this is imperative in order to keep our two nations firmly on the path of peace,” the Israeli minister told reporters at a meeting in Jerusalem.
Border security incidents have increased in recent months, and Israel has warned that the vacuum is being exploited by militants bent on attacking the Jewish state, such as those who sneaked over the border in August 2011 and killed eight Israelis.
“The Sinai is turning into a kind of Wild West which ... terror groups from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda, with the aid of Iran, are using to smuggle arms, to bring in arms, to mount attacks against Israel,” Netanyahu told Israel Radio a week ago.
Egypt’s interim military ruler, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, has recently cautioned against any interference along the long desert frontier with Israel.
“Our borders, especially the northeast ones, are inflamed. We do not attack neighboring countries but will defend our territory,” he was quoted as saying by Egypt’s state news agency MENA.
(Writing by Abeer Tayel)