The Israeli security establishment is concerned that a terrorist organization is trying to abduct an Israeli tourist from one of the coastal resorts in the Sinai peninsula, it announced Tuesday.
The head of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau in the Prime Minister's Office, Nitzan Nuriel, told Haaretz there was intelligence information about immediate plans to abduct an Israeli to Gaza. The organizations planning the abduction are thought to be working under Hamas instruction and funding.
Due to the high alert, the Counter-Terrorism Bureau released an unusually strong statement calling on all Israeli tourists in Sinai to return home at once.
"We call on all Israelis in Sinai to return to Israel immediately," the statement said. "Families of Israelis in Sinai are requested to contact them and inform them of this travel warning."
Nuriel said this was probably the most serious alert in recent months. Egyptian security forces also launched an intensive effort to undermine the kidnapping, and sharply increased their contingents in popular Sinai resorts.
A year ago, 50 terror suspects with alleged Hezbollah ties were arrested in Sinai. The suspects allegedly were planning terror attacks against Israeli tourists.
Despite the bureau's earlier travel warning just before Passover, thousands of Israelis spent the holiday in Sinai. The Israel Airports Authority reported that departures to Sinai were up 36 percent compared to last year. Another 69,000 people passed through the Taba crossing over Passover.
A source in the bureau said it was "regrettable that people ignore warnings and keep traveling to Sinai."
In Sinai, the owner of a beach and restaurant resort told Haaretz his business was packed with Israelis throughout the holiday. On Tuesday, an ordinary weekday, he had 10 Israeli couples staying at his resort. "People heard about the new warning, but no one left," he said. "The Israelis don't listen to the warnings. They've been driven nuts for years now with alerts about how dangerous it is to come here."
"I asked them to call their families and calm them down, and tell them everything's alright. Friends from Israel called me and told me about the new warning, but I think it's unreasonable. If something were happening, we'd hear about it or feel it.
"We live in Sinai, the police are all over the place. It's a very safe place," he said.
Yossi and Nira Gitai, from Jerusalem, told Haaretz that they had been planning a family holiday in Sinai with their five children for the past few weeks. They haven't been there in two years, but they became convinced it was safe after they talked to friends who had been there recently, and heard tens of thousands of Israelis were vacationing there. They had booked rooms and had their bags packed yesterday when they started receiving panicked calls from relatives.
"There had been general warnings for years and we were a little worried, but once things got so specific we decided to give up the trip," Yossi Gitai said.
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