Egyptian authorities have begun the demolition of houses for the second phase of the creation of a buffer zone in the border city of Rafah in the Sinai Peninsula late on Thursday.
The buffer zone is part of the military’s battle against a decade-long jihadist militancy based in the restive Sinai Peninsula that has peaked in the year and a half following the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
The second phase will expand the zone horizontally by 500 metres, bring the total size of the buffer zone to 1 kilometre wide and almost 14 kilometres long along the border with Gaza.
The decision to evacuate some areas in Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah cities to create the buffer zone came after one of the deadliest attacks in the North Sinai governorate. On 24 October, a suicide car bomb claimed the lives of 31 army personnel and injured at least 30 others.
Phase two of the buffer zone will include the destruction of 1,220 homes, providing shelter to roughly 2,044 families, according to previous statements by North Sinai’s governor Abdel-Fattah Harhour.
In a meeting with some of evacuated families on Tuesday, Harhour handed out certificates of appreciation to those who evacuated their houses.
BBC Arabic showed a video of Harhour during the meeting saying that the evacuation “might” expand to the entire city of Rafah, adding that a new Rafah city would be created.
However, no official decision has been issued on a possible extension of the buffer zone.
In the first phase, a total of 802 houses accommodating 1,156 families were evacuated and destroyed. Although the majority of homeowners agreed to the move, 140 were evacuated against their will.
Harhour previously stated that total compensation expenditures for phase one evacuees will reach as much as LE500 million ($67 million).
North Sinai’s decade long militant insurgency has spiked in the last year and a half as hundreds of soldiers and police have been killed, while the army says it has killed and arrested hundreds of jihadists. Civilians have also been caught in the violence.