Egypt’s military operations against an affiliate of ISIS in North Sinai is threatening to spark a humanitarian crisis, Human Rights Watch said on Monday. The offensive launched on February 9 has “left up to 420,000 residents in four northeastern cities in urgent need of humanitarian aid”, said the New York-based organization.
The campaign “has included imposing severe restrictions on the movement of people and goods in almost all of” North Sinai, HRW said in a report. “Residents say they have experienced sharply diminished supplies of available food, medicine, cooking gas, and other essential commercial goods.”
The authorities conducting the campaign, dubbed “Sinai 2018”, have also banned the sale of gasoline for cars in the area “and cut telecommunication services for several days at a time,” the report said. The Egyptian army denounced the report, saying it was based on “undocumented and unreliable sources”.
“We are distributing food rations to people, including in areas where military operations are taking place,” army spokesman Tamer al-Rifai told AFP. HRW also said authorities had “cut water and electricity almost entirely in the most eastern areas of North Sinai, including Rafah and Sheikh Zuwayed.”
“A counterterrorism operation that imperils the flow of essential goods to hundreds of thousands of civilians is unlawful and unlikely to stem violence,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the organization’s Middle East and North Africa director. “The Egyptian army’s actions border on collective punishment,” she added.
The army spokesman denied water and electricity had been cut.
Since the launch of the offensive, the military has distributed images of forces providing humanitarian assistance to people living in the area. According to the military, residents support the campaign and many have come forward with useful information to help the authorities neutralize the militants.