Egypt reportedly steps up security on border as IDF offensive in Rafah nears

A shepherd herds sheep near the border fence with Egypt in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip near a makeshift tent camp for displaced Palestinians, on January 24, 2024. (AFP)
A shepherd herds sheep near the border fence with Egypt in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip near a makeshift tent camp for displaced Palestinians, on January 24, 2024. (AFP)

Egypt has sent about 40 tanks and armored personnel carriers to northeastern Sinai within the past two weeks as part of a series of measures to bolster security on its border with Gaza, two Egyptian security sources say.

The deployment took place ahead of the expansion of Israeli military operations around Gaza’s southern city of Rafah, where much of its population has sought safety, sharpening Egyptian fears that Palestinians could be forced en masse out of the enclave.

Israeli warplanes struck Rafah, which adjoins the border, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the military to prepare to evacuate the displaced people.

Since the war between Israel and Hamas erupted on October 7 with the terror group’s deadly onslaught, Egypt constructed a concrete border wall that reaches six meters into the ground and is topped with barbed wire. It has also built berms and enhanced surveillance at border posts, the security sources said.

Last month, Egypt’s state information service detailed some of the measures it had taken on its border in response to Israeli suggestions that Hamas had obtained weapons smuggled from Egypt. Three lines of barriers made any overground or underground smuggling impossible, it said.

Images shared with Reuters by the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, an independent group, appear to show the installation of the wall in December, with several berms running behind it.

Later pictures, which the group said were taken in early February, appear to show three vertical layers of coiled barbed wire being installed on top of the wall. Reuters was not able to independently verify the images.

Satellite images from January and December also show some new constructions along the 13-kilometer (8-mile) border close to Rafah and the extension of a wall to the sea’s edge at its northern end.

The new measures come after an expansion of security in northern Sinai as Egypt’s military consolidated its grip against an Islamist insurgency that escalated a decade ago.

Well before the current war in Gaza broke out, Egypt said it had destroyed tunnels through which smuggling to Gaza had previously flourished, and had cleared a buffer zone close to the border.

On the approach to the Rafah Crossing with Gaza, the remains of razed houses can be seen along with miles of concrete walls that have been built parallel to the sea and near roads close to the border.

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