By: An Al-Monitor correspondent in Sinai, Contributor for Al-Monitor
RAFAH, Egypt — Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip is rattling Egyptians on the Egyptian side of the Gaza border. Eyewitnesses on the Egyptian side said houses along the border that is adjacent to the Gaza Strip have been directly affected by the intense Israeli bombardment.
According to the residents of the Egyptian part of Rafah, Israeli fighter jets have continuously hit the tunnels on the Gaza side of the border. They have been targeting tunnel entrances with highly explosive concussion bombs to destroy the main outlets of the tunnel on the Palestinian side, and cause earthquakes to demolish parts of the underground tunnel between the Egyptian and Palestinian sides of the border.
Abu Mohammed al-Shaer, who resides in a two-story building on the border with the Gaza Strip, told Al-Monitor, “We are living in fear as the Israeli occupation army is bombing the Palestinian border that is located within no more than 300 meters [984 feet] away from us.”
He added, “No one can imagine how harsh the bombardment is. It is not an exaggeration to say that it is a strong artificial magnitude 5 earthquake. The F-16 Fighting Falcons are striking the border all night until sunrise with the most intense missiles we have ever seen, although we have witnessed all of the wars on the Gaza Strip given that we are in the vicinity.”
Shaer continued, “I think the rockets with which Gaza is being bombed are new, for they cause abnormal quakes to the ground and subsequently to our houses. The glass windows have all been shattered, and the [walls of the] houses have cracked. This time, the impact of the bombardment has reached the city of Sheikh Zuweid, which is located 15 kilometers [9.3 miles] west of the border.”
Shaer expressed his fear of the continuation of the bombing, and said, “Since the war has begun, fighter jets have bombed the border tunnels continuously. If this situation persists, a catastrophe will occur because the underground is hollow, given that there are more than a thousand underground tunnels stretching under the houses toward Gaza.”
Umm Salem, a lady in her 50s who lives in a house that overlooks the Gaza Strip, in Salah al-Din in Egypt, told Al-Monitor, “We have become used to breathing smoke and dust from the bombardments on the border from 2008 until now.”
She said, “None of the government officials have visited or checked on us. No one has ever thought of checking on our children who have suffered epilepsy and bedwetting out of fear, and no one has even proposed medical tests and treatments to us. How do we know if Israel is using toxic gases in the bombs that would harm our children and their future?”
Umm Salem asserted that she knew about the date of the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip before it was even announced in the media. She said, “One day before the war was declared, I knew that the shelling would take place on Gaza, because the Egyptian border guards who are stationed close to us retreated from their post. This is what happens upon Israel informing the Egyptian government that it will bombard the border.”
In an interview with Al-Monitor, a security source in the North Sinai Governorate was asked about the measures taken to protect the people from the shelling. He said, “The situation on the Egyptian side is stable, and we are not responsible for the Israeli actions in the occupied territories, as long as there are no direct Israeli violations to the sovereignty of Egypt.”
The security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, denied rumors that the Egyptian side knew in advance about the date of the bombing. He said, “We do not have a crystal ball to know whether or not Israel will strike Gaza.”
On the Egyptian forces retreating from the border, the source said, “It is a military measure, [which was taken] immediately after the Israeli war was declared on Gaza, for us to protect our soldiers from any splinters or traces of the shelling, particularly since the soldiers are stationed a few meters away from potential targets on the border such as smuggling tunnels and Hamas military posts.”
The continuation of the Israeli bombardment along the Egyptian border in Rafah suggests that the smuggling tunnels are part of the objectives of the Israeli war on Gaza, as Israel has often claimed that these tunnels are used to smuggle weapons to Palestinian resistance factions.
Despite the tight Egyptian measures on the border, since the Egyptian forces announced on Aug. 7, 2013, the war on the smuggling tunnels in Rafah, witnesses confirmed to Al-Monitor that the army has intensively patrolled the border since the outbreak of Operation Protective Edge.
Commenting on these security measures on the border area, a security source told Al-Monitor, “The measures are normal and part of a plan to protect Egyptian national security, in light of the war on terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula.”
He said, “This is to prevent terrorists from using smuggling tunnels, or infiltrating to and from Gaza, across the land border or in military boats in the Mediterranean Sea. Everyone knows the extent of the damage that was inflicted on Egypt through the tunnels and entry of terrorists from Gaza to tamper with the stability in the Sinai Peninsula.”
Both the Egyptian and Israeli governments share an objective to shut down the tunnels, as each considers them a security threat.
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