Israel updated its warning against travel to neighboring Egypt’s Sinai region on Sunday, citing deadly Islamist bomb attacks on Egyptian churches and calling on Israelis already visiting to leave immediately, reiterating an already existing “concrete” terror warning for the peninsula.
Two church bombings, one in the city of Tanta and the other in Alexandria, killed at least 43 people earlier on Sunday, with the Islamic State group claiming responsibility.
“The fatal terrorist attacks which took place today reflect once again the terror capability of the Islamic State,” the anti-terror bureau said in a statement. “In light of the gravity of the threat, the anti-terror bureau advises Israelis currently in the Sinai to leave immediately and return to Israel.”
Last month, the bureau issued a similar warning against travel to the Sinai, a popular destination for Israelis over the week-long Passover holiday that starts at sunset on Monday, saying it indicated a concrete threat.
At the time, bureau head Eitan Ben-David said the closure of the Taba border crossing between Israel and Egypt was under consideration.
“We work on this all year round. We are watching what’s happening. We have no interest in crying wolf. We believe in what we say. The threat is grave,” Ben-David said at the time, highlighting the urgency of the bureau’s message.
The bureau said on Sunday that it was repeating the call in light of a fresh assessment and what it said was “further escalation in the severity of the threat posed to Israelis visiting Sinai and its immediate surroundings.”
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 are expected to enter the peninsula during the Passover holiday, according to Channel 2 news.
Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office sent condolences to families and victims effected by the attack and called for a unified effort to tackle the ongoing threat of terrorism. “The world has to come together and fight terrorism everywhere,” the statement read.
The bombings added to fears that Islamic extremists who have long been battling security forces in the Sinai Peninsula are shifting their focus to civilians.
An Islamic State affiliate claimed a December suicide bombing at a Cairo church that killed about 30 people, mostly women, as well as a string of killings in the northern Sinai that caused hundreds of Christians to flee to safer areas of the country.
The militants recently released a video vowing to step up attacks against Christians, whom they regard as “infidels” empowering the West against Muslims.
Egypt has struggled to combat a wave of Islamic militancy since the 2013 military overthrow 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.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.