Egyptians return to North Sinai villages after displacement
Dozens of cars, loaded with families, arrived in the village of Al-Dhahir, south of Sheikh Zuweid, after the army granted them permission to return.
The return of the select families has renewed hope for the thousands of citizens who were forced to flee, that they might soon also be able to return.
"With the efforts of sheikhs from the city of Sheikh Zuweid and some local officials, contact was made with the army leaders, and it was agreed to set a date for the return of the people to the village, after a forced absence that lasted for many years," Sheikh Al-Qibli from Al-Dhahir told The New Arab's Arabic language service.
In preparation for the return of residents, electrical lines were reconnected and the sand berms that had been erected to block roads were removed.
"People have began to restore their damaged houses and remove the effects of the war, in order to gradually return life to normal in the village, which constitutes a glimmer of hope for thousands of displaced people that their return is close,” said the sheikh.
The village of Al-Dhahir was the first to be subject to a ground assault by Egyptian forces, which forced the residents to flee elsewhere for safety.
At the time, the army suspected that there were a number of IS military cells near the village. Fighting in the area continued for seven years.
While welcoming the return of the villagers, Sheikh Al-Qibli has called for assistance for those who are seeking to normalise their lives.
"There are calls for the paying of compensation to the people, and providing basic services to the village, relieving the residents of the burdens of life, after years of displacement that led to the erosion of their material and social conditions," he said.
Thousands were made homeless by the army’s offensive, with many ending up in the desert, and then settling in the cities of Al-Arish and Bir Al-Abed.
The Egyptian government has been accused of failing to provide the funds needed to restore the homes and livelihoods that were destroyed by the fighting.