Egypt has forcibly evicted an estimated 1,165 families in Rafah so that it can clear a buffer zone by the Gaza Strip border, charged the human-rights group Amnesty International, which is concerned that additional homes will be demolished in the coming weeks.
“The scale of the forced evictions has been astonishing; the Egyptian authorities have thrown more than 1,000 families out of their homes in just a matter of days, flouting international and national law,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said on Thursday.
“Shocking scenes have emerged of homes in Rafah being bulldozed, bombed, with entire buildings reduced to piles of rubble and families forcibly evicted,” Sahraoui said.
According to Amnesty, Egypt has destroyed some 800 homes since November in response to an attack on one of its military checkpoints in North Sinai on October 24, in which 33 soldiers were killed. The armed group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has claimed responsibility for this attack, Amnesty said.
Days after the attack, on October 29, Egypt’s Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab mandated the creation of a buffer zone by Rafah and called for the area to be evacuated.
At least 238 members of the security forces have been killed in northern Sinai since July last year, according state media reports.
Clearing a buffer zone to stop Hamas from building infiltration and smuggling tunnels from Gaza into Egypt is one of the steps Cairo is taking to protect its armed forces from attacks by terrorist groups, Amnesty said. Egypt has a right to take security measures, but it must do so within the bounds of international human rights law, it added.
The forced evictions have ignored these laws, said Amnesty, which explained that residents were not given adequate notice, proper compensation or alternative housing.
In many cases, it said, residents were not given any official warning at all, and heard from the media that they had 48 hours to leave their homes.
It called on Egypt to stop these demolitions, particularly in light of reports that it planned to add another 500 meters to the buffer zone.
“Plans for expanding the buffer zone must not include further forced evictions. The human rights of the residents in North Sinai cannot just be trampled on in the name of security,” Sahraoui said.
In a November 20 interview on the France 24 news channel, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi defended the home demolitions and explained that the local population had been notified.
“Meetings have been organized in order to compensate them and to rebuild a new city of Rafah,” Sisi said.
“In our struggle against terrorism, we always tried to do our utmost to spare the human lives of civilians. We always respected human rights,” he said.