Egypt to Expand Gaza Buffer Zone to 1 Km; 12 New Tunnel Openings Found

Buffer zone, originally set at 500 meters, was devised in name of national security, in the wake of September bombing spree that left 33 dead.

Jack Khoury
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An Egyptian army vehicle patroling along the border with the Hamas-run Gaza Strip in the divided border town of Rafah on November 4, 2014. Credit: AFP
Jack Khoury

Egyptian authorities announced Monday they would expand the buffer zone in Egyptian Rafah in most places to one kilometer.

According to an official news agency report, the Egyptian army will widen the zone from 500 meters in order to improve national security, after Egyptian security forces uncovered tunnels that were 800 to 1,000 meters long going deep into Egyptian territory. It was also reported that Egyptian border guards revealed 12 new opening to tunnels leading into the Gaza Strip from Egyptian Rafiah and destroyed them.

In parallel, security forces continue to clear homes along the border with Gaza as part of its plan to establish a buffer zone. According to the original plan, over 1,000 homes are slated to be bulldozed.

The decision enraged local residents and human rights organizations, which claimed that such a move causes excessive suffering among civilians. The authorities claimed the move is needed to preserve national security and that the government would compensate affected homeowners either by offering them alternative housing or paying them damages.

The decision to establish the buffer zone followed a series of bomb attacks in September in Northern Sinai that killed 33 people and wounded dozens of soldiers and border guards. Egyptian officials assert that the terrorists originated from Gaza and exploited the weapons smuggling tunnels, forcing Egypt to take immediate action to address this issue.

The attack also led to the cancellation of Egyptian-brokered cease-fire talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which has caused a delay in the entry of reconstruction assistance to Gaza.