Egypt evicts 2,000 families to expand Gaza buffer zone

Egypt evicts 2,000 families to expand Gaza buffer zone
Phase two of the plan to relocate the residents of Rafah began along the Gaza border last week.
2 min read
12 January, 2015
The first wave of Rafah's house demolitions got underway in November 2014 [AFP]
The Egyptian government is set to completely demolish the city of Rafah in order to establish a buffer zone on the border with the Gaza Strip, according to General Abdel Fatah Harhour, governor of the North Sinai province.

The governor said the creation of a no-man's land along Egypt's border with the restive Palestinian coastal encalve required "the complete removal of the Egyptian city of Rafah".

According to the Egyptian authorities, the buffer zone will help officials fight armed groups operating in Sinai and prevent cross-border attacks on Israel.

Cairo decided on 17 November to double the width of the 13.5km-long buffer zone to one kilometre.

Mass demolitions, mass relocations

Residents have been forced to fully evacuate the city, but have been offered alternative accommodation. They will also be given compensation - as determined by a dedicated committee of officials. This is already happening, according to many residents, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Phase two of the Rafah border area evacuation started on Thursday, and will involve the removal of nearly 1,220 houses, home to 2,044 families.
The government and the army did not take into account the cold weather.
- Rafah resident

The beginning of phase two sparked anger and criticism due to the current weather in Sinai, as temperatures plunge to zero degrees Celsius.

"The government and the army did not take into account the cold weather, which requires the postponement of the evacuation process, at least until the end of the cold wave," one Rafah resident told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

"The people are having a hard time moving their furniture and belongings to other places under the current weather conditions," he added. "How can students go their exams under these difficult circumstances?"

Hesham Ahmed, another displaced former resident of Rafah, escaped the cold weather by moving in with relatives in the nearby city of al-Arish.

"The army is carrying out the evacuation process in a brutal manner", he told al-Araby, adding that the North Sinai governorate was not dealing with the displaced residents "as they say they are in the media".

Ahmed also said that the governorate had not yet compensated residents.

'New Rafah'

Egyptian troops are understood to have so far emptied 120 out of the 1,220 houses that will be evacuated in the next few days.

The Egyptian army destroyed the emptied houses immediately after their evacuation.

General Harhour, the province governor, said that work was underway to create a new Rafah city that would include housing "suitable for the character of the area's residents".

Construction would start immediately, he said.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.