Egypt carries out ‘mass home demolitions’ in Sinai

Egypt may have violated laws of war while clearing territory along the Gaza border, says Human Rights Watch.

Egypt floods tunnels to the Gaza Strip
Egypt's demolition of homes and flooding of tunnels along the Sinai-Gaza border has been widely criticised [EPA]

The Egyptian army may have violated international law by carrying out “mass home demolitions” as part of a bid to create a buffer zone in the Sinai Peninsula, according to Human Rights Watch. 

An estimated 3,200 families were evicted from their homes since July 2013, HRW said in a report released on Tuesday.

The 84-page report, titled “Look for Another Homeland”, accused Egyptian authorities of providing residents with “little or no warning of the evictions, no temporary housing, [and] mostly inadequate compensation for their destroyed homes”.

Residents whose farmland was destroyed, damaged or confiscated were not offered any compensation and none of those affected were left with an “effective way to challenge their eviction, home demolition or compensation”.

The Egyptian government insists that the creation of the buffer zone is a necessary part of a security campaign against rebel groups in the northern Sinai. The army plans to eventually clear a 79 sq km area of the border, including destroying tunnels to Gaza and emptying Rafah of its 78,000-person population.

Egypt has repeatedly clashed with fighters in the region, particularly since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

“Wiped off the map”

“Destroying homes, neighbourhoods and livelihoods is a textbook example of how to lose a counterinsurgency campaign,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director of HRW, said in a statement. “Egypt needs to explain why it didn’t use available technology to detect and destroy the tunnels and instead wiped entire neighbourhoods off the map.”

Because forcibly evicted residents are afforded protections under United Nations and African conventions to which Egypt is a party, HRW said that the measures could amount to violations of the laws of war.

Read more: Strangled: Gaza after Egypt floods tunnels

Last week the Egyptian army pumped water from the Mediterranean Sea into tunnels connecting the Sinai to Gaza, which has been under a tight Israeli blockade since 2007.

Egypt claims that the tunnels are being used by a local affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in order to obtain weapons, fighters and support from Gaza. Yet many of the 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza depend on them for access to medicine, food and other goods.

HRW said that the army could have used technology to detect tunnels without destroying thousands of homes and other structures, adding that the government has not provided evidence of connections between fighters in the Sinai and Gaza.

Source: Al Jazeera