Al Jazeera has obtained exclusive footage from the Sinai Peninsula that shows the aftermath of a major Egyptian military operation that began a month ago against armed groups in the desert region.
Witnesses told Al Jazeera the military has demolished schools and dozens of homes, using heavy weapons and arms machinery that range from howitzers, fighter jets, tanks and attack helicopters.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Tawfik Hamid, an Egypt domestic affairs analyst, said that there was a deliberate message behind the show of arms.
“It has a very strong symbolic meaning by sending a message both to the radicals and Egyptian people [who] want to feel that something is being done seriously,” Hamid told Al Jazeera.
Yet the destruction in the Sinai has displaced many residents, who say they have nothing to return to.
One woman, who was not named, told Al Jazeera that those responsible for forcing them to leave their homes and lands will be “punished by God”.
“We have been here since our great grandfathers,” she said. “We are very sad but we can do nothing. We will always hope to come back again to our houses and land.”
State of emergency
For years, Egypt has been battling an armed anti-government campaign in the rugged and thinly populated Sinai Peninsula, which has gained pace since the military overthrew democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in mid-2013.
In 2014, following a suicide bombing that killed 33 soldiers, current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared a state of emergency in the peninsula, describing it as a “nesting ground for terrorism and terrorists”.
Most of the attacks have targeted soldiers and police, but civilians have also been killed. Hundreds of people have died in the conflict so far.
In one of the worst rounds of violence, at least 235 people were killed last year in November in a bomb and gun attack on a mosque in Bir al-Abed, a town in North Sinai province.