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Monday, November 23, 2009     GET REAL

Bedouins in Sinai not taking kindly to crackdown on smuggling to Gaza

CAIRO — Egypt is again battling Bedouin rioters following a crackdown on smuggling in the Sinai Peninsula.   

Officials said security forces have been confronting Bedouin gunmen in northern Sinai in the most intense clashes in 2009, Middle East Newsline reported. They said alleged Bedouin smugglers and their relatives, armed with automatic weapons and grenades, were ambushing Egyptian police patrols to avenge recent arrests.

"The Bedouins are heavily engaged in smuggling, and respond violently when these activities are disrupted," an official said.

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On Nov. 20, Egyptian troops and Bedouins battled for hours in Baloza, and one gunman was killed and four others were injured. The shootout erupted after 12 Bedouins were arrested in connection with smuggling weapons and other goods to the neighboring Gaza Strip.

At one point, officials said, Baloza residents stormed a police patrol and abducted two police officers. Hours later, one was released while the other was held for ransom in exchange for the detained Bedouins. Baloza is located about 200 kilometers from the Israeli-Egyptian border.

This marked the latest clash between Egyptian security forces and Bedouin tribes in northern Sinai. The unrest has included Bedouin attacks on police stations and patrols around El Arish as well as the blockage of key roads between El Arish and the divided border city of Rafah.

Officials said the Egyptian Interior Ministry has expanded police deployment in eastern and northern Sinai in an effort to halt weapons smuggling to the Gaza Strip as well as the suspected growing alliance between Bedouin tribes and foreign Islamic insurgency groups. They said both Al Qaida and Hizbullah have sought to recruit Bedouins for attacks against Westerners and Israelis in Sinai.

The Egyptian effort has been aided by the United States, which sent equipment and trainers to track smuggling and locate tunnels between Sinai and Gaza. Officials said the cooperation led to an Egyptian decision to try to intercept smuggling convoys in western Sinai.

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