High Court upholds ban on Israeli tourists in Sinai
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High Court upholds ban on Israeli tourists in Sinai

Judges agree security assessment justifies closing Taba Crossing into Egypt over Passover holiday

Foreigners wait to cross to Egypt at the Israeli side of the Taba crossing near the Red Sea resort of Eilat, Sunday, Feb 16, 2014. An explosion ripped through a tourist bus Sunday near the border crossing between Egypt and Israel, killing at least three South Koreans and an Egyptian driver in an attack that stoked fears Sinai militants have resumed a bloody campaign against tourists. The targeting of foreign tourists was the first in the area in nearly a decade. (photo credit: AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Foreigners wait to cross to Egypt at the Israeli side of the Taba crossing near the Red Sea resort of Eilat, Sunday, Feb 16, 2014. An explosion ripped through a tourist bus Sunday near the border crossing between Egypt and Israel, killing at least three South Koreans and an Egyptian driver in an attack that stoked fears Sinai militants have resumed a bloody campaign against tourists. The targeting of foreign tourists was the first in the area in nearly a decade. (photo credit: AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The High Court on Sunday upheld the government’s closure of the Taba border crossing into Egypt over the Passover festival.

In a highly unusual move, Israel last Monday shut down the crossing to Israelis trying to enter Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on the eve of Passover, citing fears of an imminent attack by the Islamic State terror group.

The court found that there was a genuine threat and risk to Israeli tourists, and that therefore, in practice, the government was correct in closing the border.

However, it noted that it was unclear how Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz had the authority to do so, and said that the minister had to explain the legal basis for his decision by the end of the month.

Two Israeli citizens who were planning a vacation in Sinai filed the petition on Thursday against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Katz, the Prime Minster’s Office and the Israel Airports Authority, which administers Israel’s border crossings.

Some 20 others co-signed the petition, which claimed that the border closure was a breach of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, and also broke the peace accords with Egypt, which allow for free movement between the two countries.

The petitioners also cited financial damage to the estimated 30,000 tourists who were expected to visit the peninsula over the festival, as well as to the Israelis who run services for tourists in the Sinai. They claimed that the vacationers would be unable to book alternative vacations in Israel due to the cost.

In its response to the petition, the state said that all intelligence officials in Israel agreed on the severity of the threat.

The crossing is expected to reopen on Tuesday, at the end of the holiday. However, the final decision will only be made following a security assessment, the Transportation Ministry said last week.

Israelis currently in the Sinai Peninsula are able to return from Egypt and have, in fact, been encouraged to do so immediately, it said in a statement.

Blood stains pews inside the St. George Church after a suicide bombing in the Nile Delta town of Tanta, Egypt, Sunday, April 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
Blood stains pews inside the St. George Church after a suicide bombing in the Nile Delta town of Tanta, Egypt, Sunday, April 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

Last Monday’s decision to close the crossing came a day after two lethal attacks on Egyptian churches by the terrorist group’s so-called Sinai Province.

The closure was ordered by Katz following discussion with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and other security officials, according to the 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 Islamic State.

According to the minister, the Sinai Province is more motivated to carry out an attack now in light of the “pressure on Daesh in Syria and Iraq.”

The decision marks one of the few times the Taba crossing was shut down since its opening in 1982 following the Israeli-Egyptian peace deal. The crossing was shut down in 2014 following a terror attack on the Egyptian side of the border. It was closed in 2011 when Israel also assessed there was a high risk of terror attacks.

On October 7, 2004, 12 Israelis were among 34 people killed in a string of terrorist bombings against tourists in Sinai.

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 had been expected to enter the peninsula during Passover, according to Channel 2 news.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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