Egypt's president says 1-kilometer buffer zone with Gaza 'does not suffice'
SAID KHATIB (AFP/File)
The current buffer zone between the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip may need to be expanded, Egypt's president said on Tuesday.
The one-kilometer security border area separating Egypt and the coastal enclave "does not suffice," said President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, after the Egyptian army discovered 35-meter-deep and three-kilometer-long tunnels linking the besieged strip to Egypt. Vehicles had been able to traverse the tunnels, according to Egypt's Al-Wafd newspaper.
Al-Sisi announced the planned changes while participating in a youth panel in the city of Ismailia. The president also announced plans to compensate residents of border-town Rafah, who have had to vacate their homes in order to expand the buffer zone.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade over the Gaza Strip since 2007, following Islamist Hamas' victory in elections. Due to the restrictions, it is very difficult for people to transit and for merchandise to be exchanged. With the blockade, Gazans have resorted to constructing makeshift tunnels in order to import and export basic goods, along with acquiring weaponry to be used against Israel.
The current buffer zone has been pumped with water from the Mediterranean Sea in order to collapse the tunnels. Israel also maintains a 300-meter buffer zone on its side, to prevent Hamas from building tunnels through which to commit terrorist acts.
Egypt's expanded buffer zone with Gaza comes at a time when terrorism has ravaged the neighboring Sinai peninsula. The Islamic State has established a beachhead in the sparsely-populated Sinai, from which it attacks Egyptian soldiers and fires missiles at Israel.
During the 2017 Jewish holiday of Passover, the Israeli government forbade Israelis from crossing the land border to Sinai, on account of intelligence warnings that a terrorist attack was imminent.
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Sisi knows that Hamas want him dead.