Blast targets troops near Egypt-Gaza border

The strong blast in the border town of Rafah caused no casualties

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An explosive device went off on Monday near Egyptian troops demolishing houses in a town on the border with the Gaza Strip where Egypt is clearing a buffer zone to halt weapons smuggling, military officials said.

The strong blast in the border town of Rafah caused no casualties, the officials say, but prompted authorities to raise the security alert level.

Rafah and surrounding areas in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula have been under a state of emergency for more than a week since 31 troops were killed in a militant assault.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but the region has emerged as a stronghold of Islamic militants, who have carried out scores of attacks in recent months mainly targeting soldiers and police.

Authorities also imposed a curfew from dusk to dawn and limited the movement of armored vehicles and tanks on main roads believed to be booby-trapped with roadside bombs, the officials said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Over the past week, a total of 300 houses were demolished out of more than 800 targeted, housing more than 10,000 residents. The military aims to create a 500-meter wide buffer zone along the 13-kilometer borderline with Gaza extending from the Mediterranean sea.

Authorities initially gave residents a 48-hour ultimatum to leave their homes. The demolishing of the houses, even with government promises to provide compensation for those displaced, has left hard feelings among many residents - who already hold decades-long grievances against the central government. Many Sinai natives have long complained of being neglected by Cairo and now feel they are being collectively punished by heavy-handed counterterrorism and security measures.

It’s not clear if Monday’s blast was triggered by the army’s plans to remove the houses or part of the ongoing Islamic militancy activity in the region.

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