Over 110,000 Israelis ignored terror alerts by authorities and crossed into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula during the Passover holiday, officials in the Israel Airports Authority said Saturday.
Most had since returned to Israel, and Israeli authorities believed the remaining 11,000 would be back by Sunday.
Prior to the holiday, which started over a week ago, the government had warned of a serious threat of terror attacks in Sinai, long a popular tourist destination because of its picturesque desert beaches, laid-back atmosphere and cheap prices.
Travel warnings to Sinai have existed for many years. The peninsula was once seen as dangerous due to its porous border with the Gaza Strip, and fears Palestinian terrorists could smuggle through the border and target Israeli tourists. In recent years, the border with Gaza has become much tighter, with Egyptian forces rooting out and destroying smuggling tunnels and exerting far better control over the frontier.
At the same time, however, an Islamist insurgency that includes Islamic State supporters has grown, and has carried out numerous deadly attacks on Egyptian soldiers.
The area has been the target of several major terror attacks that have killed over 100 foreign nationals, including Israelis, in recent decades. But the past years have seen few attacks that target civilians, and the peninsula’s eastern shore — where most Israelis flock — has been largely peaceful. This has led many Israelis to increasingly ignore the travel warnings.
Prior to Passover, the Counter-Terrorism Bureau of Israel’s National Security Council said there is a “serious threat of the perpetration of terrorist attacks against Sinai tourists, including Israelis.”
The bureau repeated its call for all Israelis there to “leave the area immediately and return to Israel” and said it “strongly recommends that all those wishing to go to Sinai refrain from doing so.”
Nevertheless, many Israelis were undeterred.
“It’s crazy packed here. I’m sure there are more people here than at the exodus from Egypt,” one traveler told Channel 12 on Sunday from the Taba border crossing, referring to the Passover story.
She said she had been waiting at the Israeli-Egyptian border for more than three hours for a ride to her hotel as the local taxi drivers were failing to deal with the crowds.
Asked why she would go to Sinai, the woman replied: “One, we have no money and it’s cheap. Two, it’s close. Three, everyone else is going so why shouldn’t we? And four, no real reason not to.”
Asked about terror warnings, she replied: “Warnings? There are more Israelis there now than Egyptians.”
Two years ago, in a highly unusual move, Israel closed its border with Egypt for 11 days during the Passover vacation due to fears of terror attacks, primarily by Islamic terror groups affiliated with IS who have taken hold of some Sinai territory and have been battling the Egyptian military for several years.
That decision marked one of the few times the Taba crossing was shut down since its opening in 1982 following the Israeli-Egyptian peace deal. The crossing had also been shut down in 2014 following a terror attack on the Egyptian side of the border, and in 2011 when Israel also assessed there was a high risk of terror attacks.
In July 2005, 88 people, including one Israeli, were killed in a series of bomb attacks in the resort city of Sharm El Sheikh in the southern Sinai.
On October 7, 2004, 12 Israelis were among 34 people killed in a string of terrorist bombings against tourists in Sinai.