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Analysis

In rare cross-border flight, Egyptian chopper buzzes Gaza Strip

Pilot apparently strays over Hamas-controlled territory inadvertently; incident comes during major crackdown on Islamists’ smuggling tunnels

Illustrative photo of an Apache helicopter (photo credit: Ofer Zidon/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of an Apache helicopter (photo credit: Ofer Zidon/Flash90)

Amid rising tensions in the Sinai Peninsula, an Egyptian military helicopter overflew the southern Gaza Strip on Friday morning, Palestinian sources confirmed to The Times of Israel.

The aircraft buzzed the cities of Khan Younis and Rafah, the area in which Palestinian-operated smuggling tunnels run beneath border, before returning to Egyptian airspace. The rare overpass was the first incident of its kind in recent memory and occurred during the Egyptian military’s latest crackdown on Islamist terrorist groups in the Sinai Peninsula.

According to a security source, the helicopter pilot inadvertently strayed over the Strip during an operation against Islamists in Sinai near the Egyptian border with Gaza and was only over the Hamas-controlled territory for a few minutes before the IDF radioed him. The helicopter pilot promptly returned to Sinai.

According to the terms of the 1979 Camp David peace accords, the area near the border in Sinai is demilitarized, monitored by the Multinational Force and Observers, an international peacekeeping force. Any Egyptian  deployment in the region must be approved by Israel.

Cairo is concerned that some of the armed elements operating in the lawless Sinai peninsula find refuge in the Gaza Strip and that they use the subterranean smuggling tunnels running beneath the shared border to evade Egyptian authorities.

In the past weeks the Egyptian military has carried out a campaign to destroy hundreds of the smuggling tunnels and clamp down on Islamist terrorist groups in the Sinai as attacks increase against Egyptian military personnel. Several Egyptian soldiers have been killed and injured in the past week and a half since the ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.

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