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Satellite images show the Egyptian Sinai shaved and rendered sterile by the war

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Before / After: Satellite images show the Egyptian Sinai shaved and rendered sterile by the war
Kaamil Ahmed
Date of publication: Monday 8 April 2019 - 13:15 | Last updated: 1 week 6 days ago
The ghost towns of northern Egyptian Sinai appear, seen from the sky, like clusters of gray ash plots verolent the landscape. Around them, the olive groves offer a spectacle of desolation, they are today abandoned by the inhabitants whom they made live formerly and marked by the rough traces of the military vehicles.

For more than five years of war between the Egyptian army and armed militants, the region has been largely closed to foreigners, but the satellite images show how the North Sinai has been devastated by incessant fighting: demolished houses, environment destroyed and lands engulfed by the installation of military bases and permanent checkpoints.




the war
Kaamil Ahmed
Date of publication: Monday 8 April 2019 - 13:15 | Last updated: 1 week 6 days ago
The ghost towns of northern Egyptian Sinai appear, seen from the sky, like clusters of gray ash plots verolent the landscape. Around them, the olive groves offer a spectacle of desolation, they are today abandoned by the inhabitants whom they made live formerly and marked by the rough traces of the military vehicles.

For more than five years of war between the Egyptian army and armed militants, the region has been largely closed to foreigners, but the satellite images show how the North Sinai has been devastated by incessant fighting: demolished houses, environment destroyed and lands engulfed by the installation of military bases and permanent checkpoints.




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Using these images and interviews with local residents, Middle East Eye has observed how, since 2013, North Sinai has become militarized and its population thinned. Thousands of people have been driven from Rafah, on the border with the Gaza Strip, and cities of Sheikh Zuweid and el-Arich

The Egyptian army was mainly confronted with local Bedouin militants allied with the Islamic State (IS), but its military operations took Sinai residents between two fires. Since then, they live in fear and under a permanent curfew. More than 20,000 people have been forced to leave their homes and land, Human Rights Watch said.

While the north of Sinai has had an increasingly significant military presence in recent years, the same period has been marked by the worst violence against civilians. An attack on a mosque of Sufi obedience killed more than 300 people and the Christian population of the region fled due to lack of protection.

What emerges from these images is that life has given way to destruction.



Egyptian Civil War



In 2013, the Egyptian army launched a military operation against local fighters, who then swore allegiance to IS. An operation that continues since.

Despite military offensives, militants continued their attacks on official targets and local populations, including the Christian minority.

The army began demolishing houses in 2013, ostensibly to create a buffer zone along the border with Gaza to stop arms smuggling, but Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that demolitions were continuing. still in 2018.

Throughout the year 2018, the inhabitants were subjected to a real state of emergency because of a military offensive against fighters. This situation has resulted in restrictions for the local population on their movements and their access to food, medicine and fuel .

"Elsewhere, people wake up with the birds singing or the sound of horns, but in Sinai, we wake up with shelling and sirens alert," said a resident of Sheikh Zuweid, 28.

"From the Rafah border to the west, there are many homes demolished, fields burned and empty buildings. "

"Rafah no longer exists"
Human Rights Watch has described Rafah as "utterly demolished" by the Egyptian military operation (Google Earth)

Formerly nestled on the border with Gaza, Rafah is now a city that has almost disappeared.

Its houses gave way to a buffer zone created by the Egyptian authorities next to the Palestinian enclave. Satellite images show a dramatic change.

Intact in 2012, Rafah's urban environment sparse during the Egyptian military operation. In 2016, there was not much left of the city that existed before, except chalky stigma and sterile after its destruction.

"We can say that Rafah no longer exists. The city has been completely razed and, of the 70,000 to 80,000 people who live there, there are only a few hundred people scattered here and there, "said MEE Amr Magdi, a researcher with Human Rights Watch.

The NGO began investigating the destruction in 2015 after the Egyptian government announced plans to evacuate Rafah.

"The whole process was very violent from the beginning," says Amr Magdi.

A crossing on the road from Rafah to Sheikh Zuweid transformed by roadblocks (Google Earth)

According to HRW research, families were not warned until shortly before the demolitions and the displaced were offered no alternative, apart from often inadequate compensation.

"We left our home in 2016. Our life was turned upside down. We can not look forward to six months in the future because we do not know if the houses we live in will be demolished or not, "tells MEE a Rafah truck driver.

"Everyone has been moved. There is no house left. It has become a ghost town. But the fighters are still hiding there, "he adds.

Checkpoints and military bases
Travelers from Sinai compared Sheikh Zuweid crossing and checkpoint to a war zone (Google Earth)

There are no vehicles on the road from Rafah to el-Arich and the cities in the region are now in total desolation. Travelers crossing the north of Sinai evoke the presence of dozens of checkpoints on the road, clearly visible with their sand banks dug on the sides. Because of them, trips that were once feasible in a matter of hours now take days to complete.

In cities like Sheikh Zuweid - at the heart of the fighting - the center has been transformed. The main city park is completely dry and its main intersection seems to be deserted, with two earth barriers blocking everything, except for a narrow passage for vehicles from Rafah. In most satellite images since 2016, you can see a large obstacle, probably a military vehicle, block this passage.

An identical sight is repeated at other intersections along the road between Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah, where all vegetation has been torn down and razed to make way for military bases. Checkpoints and obstacles for oncoming vehicles were constructed with sand placed on the roadway.

Mahmoud, a Palestinian whose name was changed for safety, told Middle East Eyethat he was arrested at about 30 checkpoints during his transit from Gaza to Cairo, taking a road taken by thousands of people after the opening of the border with Gaza, under blockade, in April 2018.

"Everyone has been moved. There is no house left. It has become a ghost town. But the fighters are still hiding there "

- A driver from Rafah

Their bus was initially stopped for four hours and its passengers had to sit on the sidewalk in full sun. "It was like a war zone, with soldiers everywhere [and] tanks," he describes.

For him, the checkpoint at the entrance of Sheikh Zuweid is "the worst of all". "We had to stop because many trucks carrying food and goods, petrol and oil were going to Gaza. Maybe over 200. We waited about three hours, "he reports.

Far from major crossroads, the increase in military bases seems to have had an impact on the environment. Not only have the land they occupied been razed, but dirt tracks have formed because of the frequent passage of military vehicles.

In an enlarged area, the same ash-gray ruins of demolished houses appear, more dispersed than in Rafah, but the displacement is clearly visible.

New structures appear during military operation as land is damaged and houses demolished (Google Earth)

Human Rights Watch has described military strategies as "violent" and "counterproductive". Human Rights Watch's Amr Magdi told MEE that many displaced had been forced to settle in temporary buildings built on agricultural land that could be attacked by the army if they were mistaken for hiding as combatants.

"The army created the problem and made it more difficult," says Amr Magdi. "It shows the army's lack of respect for the dignity of the inhabitants of the region. "

Another former resident of Rafah, a truck driver, tells MEE he is "lucky" to have a family able to house him.

"Some people in the south of Rafah live in pieces of clay bricks or straw. Imagine that they still live in these conditions, with this cold. The government said it would compensate them, but we could die before we get anything. "

A devastated environment
North Sinai was once known for its olive groves and premium olive oil, but the war ravaged production.

North Sinai governorate plans to compensate farmers in the region for at least 40,000 trees to which they no longer have access or which have been damaged, according to lists published on Facebook, which gives an indication of the extent of environmental damage to the region.

Bedouins of Sinai depend on their lands, which were extorted from them by the military operation

"Agriculture needs stability and a constant workforce. We do not have [today] either, "says the driver. "After Operation Sinai 2018, a lot of land has been degraded. Then, no agricultural activity was allowed because the army feared that these crops would be delivered to the combatants. "

Damage to the lands in the area is the most dramatic and obvious change in the satellite imagery. When we observe them, we see that vast expanses of land have become sterile. Zooming in, the image reveals a fertile land that seems to be dead and lack of vegetation.

"Most people I know have sold their land. For the Bedouins, it's the worst thing that can happen. Selling your land affects your honor. "

Translated from the English ( original ) by VECTranslation .

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https://www.middleeasteye.net/fr/ne...e-sinai-egyptien-rase-et-rendu-sterile-par-la
 

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