Taba crossing into Egypt to remain closed indefinitely
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Taba crossing into Egypt to remain closed indefinitely

Counter Terrorism Bureau to reassess closure, put in place last week amid heightened security concerns, 'over the next few days'

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

The Taba border crossing between Israel and Egypt (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
The Taba border crossing between Israel and Egypt (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The Taba crossing into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which was closed last week, will remain shut to Israelis, the Counter Terrorism Bureau announced Tuesday evening.

Before the Passover holiday last Monday night, April 10, the Transportation Ministry shut down the Taba crossing — also known as the Menachem Begin Crossing — to Israeli vacationers hoping to enter Sinai, citing fears of an imminent terror attack by the Islamic State terror group.

The crossing was due to reopen on Tuesday, but in light of a “situational assessment,” the CBT opted to keep it closed.

Israelis inside Sinai can still use the crossing to return to Israel — and were encouraged to do so. Foreign nationals can cross into Egypt freely.

“The decision will be revisited continuously over the next few days, in accordance with the situation,” the CTB said in a statement.

On Sunday, the High Court of Justice upheld the ban, denying an appeal by a group of Israeli citizens who had hoped to overturn it on the grounds that it violated their civil liberties. The court found that there was a genuine threat and risk to Israeli tourists, and that therefore, in practice, the government had been correct in closing the border.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz attends a press conference at the Transportation Ministry in Jerusalem on March 14, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz attends a press conference at the Transportation Ministry in Jerusalem on March 14, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The initial closure was ordered by Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz, after discussion with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and other security officials, according to a Transportation Ministry statement.

“This was an intelligence-security decision that was made in light of information that indicated plans to carry out a terror attack against tourists by Daesh’s Sinai Province,” Katz said, using the Arabic nickname for the Islamic State.

The decision came a day after two lethal attacks on Egyptian churches by the terrorist group’s so-called Sinai Province, which killed at least 43 people earlier.

According to the minister, the Sinai Province, which has been waging a bloody war with Egyptian security forces and carrying out attacks against civilians, is more motivated to carry out an attack now in light of the “pressure on Daesh in Syria and Iraq.”

The closure of the border marked one of the few times the Taba crossing has been shut down since its opening in 1982, following the Israeli-Egyptian peace deal: It was closed in 2011, when Israel also assessed there was a high risk of terror attacks; and it was shut down in 2014, following a terror attack on the Egyptian side of the border.

An Islamic State affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula holds Egyptian Coptic Christians hostage. (Screen capture/YouTube)
An Islamic State affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula holds Egyptian Coptic Christians hostage. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Some 17,000 Israelis have visited Sinai so far this year, lured by sandy beaches, world-class snorkeling and resorts at cut-rate prices. Tens of thousands were expected to enter the peninsula during the week-long Passover holiday, according to Channel 2 News.

Egypt has struggled to combat a wave of Islamic militancy since the 2013 military overthrowing of an elected Islamist president.

The Sinai-based IS affiliate has mainly attacked police and soldiers, but has also claimed bombings that killed civilians, including the downing of a Russian passenger jetliner in the Sinai in 2015, which killed all 224 people aboard and devastated Egypt’s tourism industry.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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