Citing ‘concrete intel’ of terror threat, minister urges Israelis to bolt Sinai

Situation is ‘life-threatening,’ Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz tells the 10,000 Israelis currently vacationing in the peninsula

In this Tuesday, March 7, 2017 photo, Israel's Transportation and Intelligence minister Yisrael Katz speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in his office in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP/Dan Balilty)
In this Tuesday, March 7, 2017 photo, Israel's Transportation and Intelligence minister Yisrael Katz speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in his office in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP/Dan Balilty)

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz on Monday said a decision to shutter the main border crossing between Israel and Egypt, along with an urgent call for Israeli tourists to immediately return from vacations in Sinai, was based on sound information about an imminent terror attack by jihadists.

Earlier, in a highly unusual move, the Transportation Ministry shut down the Taba Crossing to Israelis trying to enter Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Israelis currently in the Sinai Peninsula will still be able to return from Egypt — and are being encouraged to do so immediately by the ministry.

Katz, who is also intelligence minister, told Israel Radio that the situation in the Sinai Peninsula was now “life-threatening” for Israelis.

The minister conceded that closing the crossing would ruin the Passover holiday plans for many Israelis who planned to travel to Sinai’s picturesque beaches during the week-long festival.

Some 10,000 Israelis, mostly from Arab towns, are believed to be vacationing in Sinai at the moment.

Israelis enjoy the surf and sun at a Sinai beach resort in 2006 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
File: Israelis vacation at a Sinai beach resort (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

But, Katz stressed, “better to spoil a trip than to endanger lives.”

The decision to close the crossing came after consultations with various security officials and a great deal of deliberation, he said.

“It is based on intelligence information and warnings.”

The minister explained that there was “concrete information” of planned attacks by a Sinai branch of the Islamic State group that would target Israeli tourists, and noted that earlier Monday a rocket fired from Sinai hit Israel’s southern region.

The rocket caused no injuries or damage.

Egyptian authorities have also been notified of the closure, Katz said.

In a statement, the Transportation Ministry clarified that “this is first and foremost a security-intelligence decision that was made following information that indicates intent by the Sinai branch of IS, whose activity has intensified in recent months, to attack tourists, and is also the result of the attacks and the state of emergency in Egypt.”

The pressure on IS in Syria and Iraq has increased the group’s motivation to carry out attacks in other arenas, the ministry said, referring to a coalition of forces battling to defeat the jihadist extremists in those countries.

“Prior to the decision, there were repeated assessments of the situation and repeated consultations over the past few days because of the desire to not burden those civilians who planned to travel [to Sinai],” the ministry continued. “However, in view of the information and the severity of the threat it was decided that it would be better to spoil trips than endanger life.”

The crossing into Egypt will be closed from Monday morning. It is expected to reopen next Tuesday, April 18, with the end of the Passover holiday, but only after a new security assessment concludes that it is safe to do so, the ministry said.

The closure was ordered by Katz after consultation with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and other security officials.

The decision came a day after two deadly attacks on Egyptian Coptic churches by IS’s affiliate “Sinai Province.”

The bombings in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria killed at least 43 people on Sunday. Islamic State claimed responsibility.

Monday’s closure was not entirely unexpected. It came a day after the Counter-Terrorism Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office released its own statement urging Israelis to forgo travel to the restive peninsula.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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