My first impression of the Sinai Peninsula in the north of Egypt was a pleasant surprise. I travelled there with two of my comrades in the spring of 2006. We took a bus from our kibbutz in the north overnight through Israel and crossed the border at Eilat. After crossing the Egyptian border check (the Sinai Peninsula was ceded to Egypt by Israel in 1982 with an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty) we entered a Jeep accompanied by European tourists (presumably non-Jews) who drove us through the desert in blistering dry desert heat â€“ the temperature must have exceeded 45 degrees Celsius.
Staying for five nights in the resorts of Dahab and Sharm el-Sheik was great. The tourist complexes were filled mostly with scuba diving enthusiasts from England who opted to spend their holiday exploring the exotic marine life in the Gulf of Aquaba from Egypt rather than Eilat.
Just two days upon our return to the kibbutz in the North, however, CNN reported of a series of deadly explosion in Dahab. The incident happened right at the beginning of Sham Al-Nasseim, the Islamic spring celebration. 80 people were wounded and at least 23 were dead. The al-Qaeda had claimed responsibility for the attack.
Last week, the Egyptian army detained al-Qaeda militants in the Sinai region. According to the Maan news agency, al-Qaeda cells infiltrated the peninsula in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution.
The Sinai also connects Egypt to the Gaza Strip. A crucial natural gas pipeline that runs through the Sinai was bombed five times this year, and post-Mubarak Egyptian authorities hold the al Qaeda responsible for the attack.
An Egyptian intelligence general told CNN:
“Al Qaeda is present in Sinai mainly in the area of Sakaska close to Rafah,..They have been training there for month, but we have not identified their nationalities yetâ€¦Units from the 2nd infantry division, with support from general security and the border guardsâ€¦We plan to clean out those criminal pockets around the area of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweidâ€¦”
General El-Sayed Abdel-Wahab Mabrouk, the governor of North Sinai confirmed that a flier entitled “Al Qaeda Sinai Branch” circulated outside a mosque in el-Arish last Wednesday. The document called for an Islamic state in Sinai and declared that the group is planning attacks on police stations and security forces.
“A security cordon has been placed around the entrances of el-Arish and reinforcements arrived outside the police stations and the el-Arish central prison in anticipation of an attack on Fridayâ€¦” said Wahab.