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Egypt's 'shameful' campaign in Sinai risks humanitarian crisis: HRW Open in fullscreen

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Egypt's 'shameful' campaign in Sinai risks humanitarian crisis: HRW

Soldiers patrol Rafah after carrying out home demolitions [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 April, 2018

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Human Rights Watch have amounted Egypt's 'Sinai 2018' operation to collective punishment, as residents face severe restrictions on movement, home demolitions and crippling food, water and fuel shortages.
An Egyptian campaign against militants in the northern Sinai linked to the Islamic State group is putting hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk of a sweeping humanitarian crisis, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The rights group have detailed how the severe security crackdown in the region is impeding the supply of essential food, water, fuel and medical supplies to around 420,000 civilians in the region, who are also subject to telecommunications outages for days at a time.

Movement of goods and people is also severely restricted, which has brought the economy to a near stand still as markets stand empty of food and other commercial goods. 

The group also slam President Sisi for an untruthful media campaign that hides the true effects of the military crackdown on the region, whose isolated desert location made it already prone to economic difficulties.

"A counterterrorism operation that imperils the flow of essential goods to hundreds of thousands of civilians is unlawful and unlikely to stem violence," said Sarah Leah Whitson, the organisation's Middle East and North Africa director. 

A counterterrorism operation that imperils the flow of essential goods to hundreds of thousands of civilians is unlawful and unlikely to stem violence
"The Egyptian army's actions border on collective punishment and reveal the gap between what President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi claims to be doing on behalf of the citizenry and the shameful reality."

HRW conducted dozens of interviews with local residents, aid and media workers for the report, concluding that "if the current level of movement restrictions continues, it could lead to a wider humanitarian crisis in an already economically marginalised area that continues to suffer from ongoing military operations and home demolitions".

All schools and universities have been closed since 9 February and will remain so "until further notice".

The report draws particular attention to home demolitions and forced evictions following Sisi's announcement that all farms and houses within five kilometres of al-Arish airport were to be demolished or forcibly evacuated to create a "security buffer zone".

Unemployment rates may now be as high as 60 percent, due to the absence of farming, trade and education.
Many who could not afford to move to another city or received no compensation live in rudimentary shacks – which the army frequently calls 'terrorists' hideouts'
"Many who could not afford to move to another city or received no compensation live in rudimentary shacks – which the army frequently calls "terrorists' hideouts", the report details. Many farms have also been demolished under the pretext of them being hideouts for militants.

These life-threatening sanctions amount to collective punishment of the northern Sinai's residents, which is a violation of international law, the rights group have said.

Since the launch of the offensive, the military has distributed images of forces providing humanitarian assistance to people living in the area. However, according to witnesses interviewed by HRW, the amount of food distributed is never enough to meet the need.

The organisation say that by denying civilians' right to food, the army are violating the Egyptian constitution and UN regulations. 

The military operation, dubbed "Sinai 2018", was launched by President Sisi following a spate of deadly militant attacks, culminating in a devastating siege on a Sufi mosque in the northern Sinai that killed 305 people in November 2017.

In the wake of the attack, Sisi pledged to "restore stability and security" within three months in the region, using "all brute force".

More than 100 IS fighters and at least 30 Egyptian soldiers have been killed in the ongoing operation, according to army figures.

The report also highlights civilian casualties resulting from army violence, for example two children were killed by soldiers' gunfire as people had gathered in Sheikh Zuwaid to receive food.

The Egyptian authorities regularly publish propaganda-style video updates boasting their various "successes" in the Sinai. Journalists are not allowed access into the region.

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