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The Counter-Terrorism Bureau's statement Tuesday night put an end to some of the rumors, but failed to answer all the questions revolving around Sinai, in the wake of the bureau's urgent call for all Israelis in Sinai to leave immediately and return home.

The night-time statement came after hours of uncertainty and consultation in the intelligence community, the government and the bureau itself. The unusual publication means there was a concrete, immediate concern, but it's hard to determine the actual situation because of the difficulty in contacting all the hundreds of Israeli tourists in Sinai - it is impossible to bring them all to one spot, do a head count and ensure everyone is unharmed.

The statement released Tuesday shifts some of the pressure to act onto the tourists' families, by calling on them to contact their relatives and convince them to leave Sinai.

It's reasonable to assume that alongside this public information effort, Israel is in close contact with the Egyptian intelligence services.

The Military Intelligence, Mossad and Shin Bet all maintain a tight relationship with their Egyptian counterparts, mostly out of the media eye. The most widely reported aspect of this relationship is the joint effort to curb weapon smuggling into the Gaza Strip and to combat terrorism, some of which is directed against Israelis in Sinai and around Gaza.

The media usually tends to be skeptical about the bureau's travel warnings, often considering them little more than an attempt to avoid blame should something actually happen. However, despite the quiet in recent years, extremist activity has been on the rise, and some of the Sinai bedouin have forged close links with Hamas.

Meanwhile, Israelis and other tourists remain attractive targets both for attacks and for hostage-taking.

Posted by Amos Harel on April 14, 2010

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