gaza - Reuters - January 27 2011
Palestinian gunmen from the Al-Aqsa brigades of Fatah movement attend a news conference in Gaza City, January 27, 2011 Photo by Reuters
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Mori Chen
African migrants after crossing the border from Sinai. Photo by Mori Chen

In light of the unrest in Egypt, Israel has been preparing for the possibility that tens of thousands of African asylum-seekers in that country could flood across the border into Israel in fear for their lives.

Army and Border Police forces have been beefed up along the Egyptian border also out of fear that terrorists could exploit the situation to cross the border and perpetrate attacks inside Israel. In addition, military planners are concerned that masses of Sinai Bedouin might seek to flee Egypt for Israel.

"We know that if the Bedouin start fleeing the Egyptian army, it will be into Israel," said Shmuel Rifman, chairman of the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council.

For the first time since the mass demonstrations in Egypt began, there was a noticeable drop in traffic through the Israeli-Egyptian border crossing at Taba on Monday. The Israel Airports Authority, which is responsible for all land-based border crossings as well as the airports, reported a 30 percent drop in traffic. Of the approximately 2,000 people who crossed through on Monday, most were tourists entering Israel.

Air traffic between the two countries has also been disrupted. Air Sinai canceled its flights to and from Israel on Sunday due to a lack of a passengers. On Monday, there were no scheduled flights and it seems unlikely that the Egyptian airline will resume service here today.

El Al, in contrast, is continuing its regular flights to and from Cairo. Sunday night, it even added a second flight to collect passengers who sought to leave Egypt early.

Nevertheless, the unrest is not deterring all tourists. One example is Gil Lahav, 48, whose shack at the Maher beach, near Bir Sweir, has become his second home. He is determined not to let the possibility of a revolution disrupt his Sinai holiday, which is slated to begin this Sunday.

"Currently, as it happens, there are no Israelis [at Maher]," he said, based on reports from the resort's proprietors. "But that's because it's February, the worst month."

The situation in Sinai, he insisted, "is completely calm, a paradise. People say there's a mess in Sinai, but that's at Rafah," on the Gaza border.

"Sinai is three times the size of Israel," he noted. "In the Bir Sweir area, people live off tourism and don't want to ruin their livelyhood, so it's very quiet. If this changes, and anarchy erupts there, too, then we'll reconsider. I spoke just now with [the resort] and with tourists at the hotels, and everything is quiet. In Sinai, there are no masses that could foment a revolution."