Sunday, April 22, 2012

Israel Warns Citizens Vacationing in Sinai: Leave Immediately

by Shlomo Cesana, Daniel Siryoti, Eli Leon and The Associated Press

Counterterrorism Bureau issues travel warning for the Sinai Peninsula, says there is "concrete information" terrorists intend to attack Israeli tourists in coming days • Vice PM Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon: Sinai is a troublesome area exploited by al-Qaida and other terror groups * Egyptian Salafi leader visits Gaza to strengthen ties.

The Sinai Peninsula: a terrorist's paradise?
Photo credit: Lior Mizrahi [Archive]

Israel warned its citizens over the weekend to immediately leave Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, citing warnings of planned attacks against them.

Government spokesman Ofir Gendelman said Saturday that the country has "concrete information" that terrorists intend to attack Israeli tourists in coming days. Gendelman would not provide further detail or say how many Israeli tourists are in the nearby Sinai, a popular destination. He said doing so would endanger their security.

Israel has for years had a general warning in place not to go to Sinai, but urgent alerts to leave have stepped up as post-revolutionary Egypt grapples with security problems. Last August, terrorists crossed from Sinai into Israel and killed eight people. Earlier this month, at least two rockets were fired from Egypt's Sinai Desert at the Israeli resort town of Eilat. No one was hurt. Egypt denies the rockets were fired from its territory.

An Israeli defense official says that rockets fired from Egypt toward Israel this month were smuggled from Libya, which has become an illicit source of weapons since the fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi last year.

The Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity according to military regulations, says Israel believes the rockets were stolen from a Libyan weapons storehouse and smuggled into Egypt. The official said Friday that Libyan rockets were also smuggled into the Gaza Strip and launched into Israel this month.

Israel also believes longer-range Scud missiles were smuggled from Libya to Gaza, the official said.

Vice Prime Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon called the Sinai Peninsula "a troublesome area exploited by al-Qaida and other terror organizations from the Gaza Strip and Sinai."

Egyptian officials reacted harshly to the Counterterrorism Bureau's warning. Khaled Fouda, the governor of southern Sinai, accused Israel of attempting to sabotage the tourism industry in Sinai and Egypt. "We have no reports that tourists are leaving Sinai out of security concerns. Hotel occupancy in northern Sinai and Sharm el-Sheikh is very high and that is why the Israelis are spreading irresponsible rumors about the security situation in Sinai," Fouda said.

Meanwhile, Egyptian media reported that a prisoner exchange between Israel and Egypt would take place this week, according to senior Egyptian defense officials. As part of the exchange, Egypt is set to release Ouda Tarabin, an Israeli citizen suspected of espionage, in return for 63 Egyptian citizens in Israeli prisons.

Dozens of Egyptians protested on Friday in Cairo's Tahrir Square and demanded the disqualification of presidential candidates Amr Moussa, the former Arab League chief and former Egyptian foreign minister, and former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik. The Muslim Brotherhood's new candidate for president, Mohammed Morsi, said Saturday that the Palestinian issue would be of central importance to him. Morsi became the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate when Khairat el-Shater, the group's original candidate, was disqualified earlier in the month.

Meanwhile, officials in Gaza welcomed one of Egypt's top Salafist party leaders on Saturday for a three-day visit, according to Ma'an News agency.

Hamas leader Ismail Radwan and Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib greeted Emad Addin Abdul Ghafour, chairman of the hardline al-Nour party who is leading a delegation of 11 representatives to the coastal territory.

Al-Nour won 29 percent of parliamentary seats in Egypt's recent elections, coming in second after the Muslim Brotherhood.

According to Ma'an, Ghafour's visit aims to strengthen ties between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

Shlomo Cesana, Daniel Siryoti, Eli Leon and The Associated Press


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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