Reverse exodus: Defying terror warning, 20,000+ Israelis in Sinai for Passover

Vacationers ignore ‘a very high concrete threat’ of attacks in Egyptian peninsula beset by Islamist insurgency

Israelis enjoy the beach of Paradis Sweir, a desert resort located on the Red Sea shore, South Sinai, Egypt, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, October 15, 2016. (Johanna Geron/Flash90)
Israelis enjoy the beach of Paradis Sweir, a desert resort located on the Red Sea shore, South Sinai, Egypt, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, October 15, 2016. (Johanna Geron/Flash90)

More than 23,000 Israelis have crossed the southern border into the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt in the past few days for the Passover festival, ignoring a government warning of a serious threat of terror attacks there, Hebrew media reported Sunday. Some reports put the figure as high as 40,000.

Long a popular tourist destination because of its picturesque desert beaches, laid-back atmosphere and cheap prices, the area has also been the target of several major terror attacks that have killed over 100 foreign nationals, including Israelis, in recent decades.

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 crossing, referring to the Passover story.

Illustrative: The Taba crossing on the Israeli-Egyptian border, near Eilat. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

She said she had been waiting at the 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.”

In the course of her TV interview, the travel warning could be heard being broadcast in the background over a speaker system at the border.

However, the warning is only a recommendation and not legally binding. The advisory adds that the decision is at “the discretion of each person and at their sole responsibility.”

The simple straw huts, seen here at Big Dune Beach camp on August 14, 2016, are popular among Israeli Jewish tourists. Israeli Arabs and Europeans generally prefer hotels in built-up areas in Dahab, Taba, and Sharm El Sheikh. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

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 the Islamic State 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.

Workers go through the debris of the damaged Ghazala Gardens Hotel in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, Tuesday, July 26, 2005 following a series of car bombs with a death toll from the attacks of 88. (AP/Amr Nabil)

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