Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1392, (3 - 9 May 2018)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1392, (3 - 9 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Remembering victory

At an event marking the 36th anniversary of the liberation of Sinai President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi promised an end to military operations in the peninsula as soon as it is possible and development plans for the area were unveiled, Ahmed Eleiba reports

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has promised the people of Sinai that military operations on the peninsula will end as soon as possible.

Addressing the Armed Forces’ 28th educational seminar, held to commemorate the 36th anniversary of the liberation of Sinai, the president said he was aware of the hardships being sustained by the people of Sinai as a result of military operations.

“All Egyptians know that their brothers in Sinai are not responsible for the evil people. We are aware of this situation. Terrorism exists in Sinai and in other governorates. But if we do not take these measure we will lose Sinai,” said Al-Sisi.

Noting how the defeat of Israel in the 6 October 1973 War altered the military and political situation across the entire Middle East, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul-Gheit discussed Egyptian diplomacy during the inter-war period when he was serving in the office of then National Security advisor Hafez Ismail.

Abul-Gheit recalled that soon after the 1967 defeat, US secretary of state Henry Kissinger told Egyptian foreign minister Mohamed Hassan Al-Ziyat gruffly: “You were defeated. Those who are defeated have to pay the price. I don’t have time to waste on the Middle East. You have to accept reality.”

On 30 September 1973, the Egyptian National Security Council convened to discuss the situation. The minutes of that meeting epitomise the Egyptian people’s fighting spirit, firmness of will and stamina, said Abul-Gheit. He referred to a passage in the minutes that stated: “This generation of Egyptians must deliver to future generations the land of Sinai free of foreign occupation.” The meeting set into motion the planning phase for the crossing of the Suez Canal and the battle that would deliver a debilitating blow to the enemy and recover a portion the occupied land.

After the 1973 War, Abul-Gheit joined the Egyptian diplomatic teams engaged in the negotiating process. He relates: “I was working with the diplomatic teams after the war when the Israeli prime minister came to Ismailia to meet with President [Anwar Al-] Sadat on 25 December 1977 and to present a draft peace agreement. The agreement recognised Egyptian sovereignty up to Egypt’s borders with Palestine under the British mandate. In other words, they recognised our historical borders. However, they also said they had three airbases in eastern Sinai and that they intended to keep them, and that they had settlements on the Mediterranean between Arish and Rafah containing some 10,000 Israeli settlers and that they intended to keep those, too, and apply Israeli law there. In addition, they demanded all roads in eastern Sinai be open for Israeli security patrols for the settler presence and that only Egyptian Arabs from Sinai should have access to the roads.”

 Egypt naturally rejected this proposal and continued to negotiate until it secured the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Sinai. As Abul-Gheit explained, this was to be carried out in six stages which had not been completed when Sadat was assassinated on 6 October 1981. At that point Israel wavered between continuing with the withdrawal and handing Sinai back to Egypt or suspending it and freezing the peace treaty. Abul-Gheit concluded: “The leadership that assumed responsibility in Egypt acted prudently and wisely, ultimately compelling Israel to complete withdrawal on 25 April 1982 so that the Egyptian flag could be raised over the whole of Sinai.”

During the seminar Ibrahim Mehleb, presidential assistant for strategic projects, furnished an overview of Sinai development plans.

Numerous development projects have already been implemented in tandem with military operations in order to overcome the problem of underdevelopment in Sinai. Of particular note is the progress in developing the educational sector. Forty-seven schools and an Al-Azhar institute have been constructed, providing 400 classrooms. In addition there are new vocational training schools to serve the needs of industrial zones. Other major projects include bringing 400,000 acres of land under cultivation and expanding fisheries. The Bardawil airport is slated for upgrading and expansion and there are ambitious water desalinisation projects, such as that at Bahr Al-Baqar which will be the largest desalination plant in the world when it is completed.

Mehleb stressed that progress has been made towards overcoming the problem of water scarcity in Sinai by optimising available resources through the construction of 27 wells in Rafah and a water desalinisation plant in Al-Tor. He also highlighted the expansion of road networks. The coastal road is in the process of being broadened and other road works are in full swing. “Road links between Sinai and other Egyptian governorates will give impetus to development across the peninsula,” said Mehleb. “The government is working to optimise use of the capacities and resources of Sinai.”

THE EGYPTIAN Armed Forces have released documentary photos of Mujahideen operations in Sinai during the War of Attrition that followed the 1967 defeat. The images were displayed for the first time during the Armed Forces’ commemoration of the 36th anniversary of the recovery of Sinai.

During the display Sheikh Hassan Khalaf, leader of the Sinai-based Sawarka tribe, related accounts of the heroic deeds of the Sinai Mujahideen and the humanitarian acts of the army officers who commanded them. One photo shows an operation using camels to cross the Suez Canal.

Sheikh Khalaf recounted that a Mujahid had put to Sergeant Midhat Morsi the idea of using camels to transport Katyusha missiles and bazookas to use in operations against occupying forces in Sinai. The idea was tried out in the area of Jazira Al-Mallah but the camels nearly drowned. A conscript, who was a farmer, stepped forward to observe that camels weigh twice as much in front as they do in the back and it was necessary to put the greatest weight of the load on the back end of the camel. His advice was applied and the camel succeeded in crossing the canal and back in 14 minutes, carrying six Katyushas and 12 bazookas. The weapons were used to destroy Israeli military targets, including the Israeli army headquarters in the Nahel Dikla settlement. The Balouza munitions camp was struck by 24 Katyusha missiles.

The Sinai Mujahideen undertook many camel crossings. The camels were accompanied by contingents on rafts that would engage with enemy forces in the event that they were spotted. Sheikh Khalaf showed a picture of a group that included Sheikh Hussein Al-Masoudi who was killed during the military clash, becoming the first Mujahideen martyr.

Sheikh Khalaf was taken prisoner after he and a fellow Mujahid were detected by an Israeli reconnaissance plane leading a camel laden with missiles across the canal. The Red Cross appealed to Israel to treat the Mujahideen in accordance with international treaties on prisoners of war. Israel refused, insisting that the prisoners were inhabitants of Sinai and subject to the occupation authorities. During the trial, which was attended only by a BBC correspondent, the Mujahideen faced three charges: possession of lethal weapons for the purpose of killing women and children, crossing the canal without permission, and receiving military training in an enemy country (Egypt). The military prosecutor called on the court to try the Mujahideen in accordance with Egyptian laws assuming they had been forced to cross the canal against their will. When the court gave Sheikh Khalaf permission to speak he denied this and said that he and his colleagues acted voluntarily and that all Mujahideen would do likewise if given the opportunity. He also told the court, in response to the accusation of planning to kill women and children, that he knew that the only Israeli women in Sinai were female conscripts. He pointed out that Israel never asked permission to cross into Egyptian airspace and bombard the Bar Al-Baqar School and the innocent children inside. The court reprimanded him and sentenced him to 149 years in prison.

Sheikh Khalaf spent four years in Israeli occupation prisons. Egyptian intelligence then apprehended an Israeli spy, Barukh Cohen, who had entered Egypt using Moroccan identity papers. Israeli pressure failed to secure the spy’s release until eventually Egypt agreed to a prisoner swap in exchange for the mujahideen. The deal was brokered by the Red Cross.

At the end of his speech Sheikh Khalaf said that ill-intentioned people were trying to drive a wedge between the inhabitants of Sinai and the Armed Forces and police. He added, “these evil people promoting wrong will never be stronger than our unity behind what is right.”

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