The Egyptian government is reportedly planning to impose a buffer zone along its border with the Gaza Strip to reduce violence in the Sinai Peninsula.
Sources in the Egyptian army say the ten-kilometer zone starts at the Rafah border crossing and ends at the Mediterranean Sea.
“The homes were knocked down over the last 10 days as a test of the buffer zone idea in an area called El-Sarsoriya, a few kilometers from the Rafah crossing, while explosives were used to collapse the tunnels,” the sources said on condition of anonymity.
Egypt’s military has bulldozed over a dozen homes and uprooted trees in the border area in recent days, giving eviction notices to Egyptian residents living close to the Gaza border.
“Officers come to houses, tell people they must leave now because they want to expand borders,” said Samir Faris, who lives in Rafah. “We have no objections, but first give us a clear plan.”
The move comes as Egypt attempts to assert a more stringent control over the largely lawless northern Sinai Peninsula. This has sparked concerns about the future of Gaza, which has been under an Israeli siege for the past years.
The Rafah border crossing with Egypt serves as a lifeline for the people of Gaza.
Ehab Ghussein, a spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza, expressed concern about the Egyptian army’s activities along the border, saying the creation of a buffer zone would be a step toward imposing “a new blockade on Gaza and increase the suffering of its people.”
“Buffer zones are not needed between neighboring countries that have historical and social relations,” Ghussein said. He called on Egypt to establish a free trade zone at the Egypt-Gaza border instead of the buffer zone.
On Saturday, Egyptian security forces destroyed a number of tunnels connecting Gaza and Egypt.
About 80 percent of the tunnels, which are used to transfer goods and medicines into Gaza from Egypt, are no longer functional due to similar incidents carried out by the Egyptian security forces.
Palestinians say the tunnels are the only resort to provide food and other basic needs for Gazans.