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EGYPT - May 20 - Egypt Sends Show Of Force To Sinai After Kidnappings.

President Muhammad Morsi of Egypt sent dozens of tanks and hundreds of soldiers to Sinai as a show of force in the largely lawless area after unknown gunmen kidnapped seven Egyptian security officers there last week. The kidnappings have highlighted the vast security vacuum that has spread across Sinai, the strategically important peninsula that borders both Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, since the revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Sinai residents have long complained of neglect by the Egyptian state, and the past two years have seen the impoverished desert peninsula, which is about the size of West Virginia, become a free zone for tribal militias, armed smugglers and bands of Islamist extremists who have attacked police stations and blown up natural gas pipelines. Security officials say the kidnappers seek the release of their comrades who have been jailed for deadly attacks on a tourist hotel and a police station. Some of them are still awaiting trial, while others have been sentenced to death or to lengthy prison terms. While condemning the kidnappings, human rights groups accuse the government of exacerbating Sinai's militancy by denying the suspects due process. The failure of Morsi's government to find and free the captives since their disappearance on May 23 has developed into a political black eye and exposed rifts between Morsi's more conciliatory approach to dealing with extremists and the less compromising stance of the Egyptian military. Both were left increasingly vulnerable on May 19 after a video was posted online showing the seven men blindfolded with their hands behind their heads, saying they had been tortured and pleading with Morsi to release political prisoners. "We implore you as fast as possible to release the political prisoners from Sinai as fast as possible because we can't take any more, any torture", one captive says. Morsi, whose government faces widening discontent over the decline of Egypt's economy and has struggled with frequent street violence, first sought accommodation. A statement by his office on the day of the kidnappings said he would be "vigilant in protecting the souls of all, be they the kidnapped or the kidnappers". The statement said that Morsi sought to address the concerns of Sinai residents "in a comprehensive way" and that he was reviewing the files of some of the area's prisoners. But a new statement on May 19 suggested a more forceful stance. After a meeting that included military leaders, Morsi's office said top officials were committed to "the speedy liberation of the kidnapped soldiers and the saving of their lives". On May 20, a banner headline in Al Ahram, a state newspaper, said: "Morsi: No dialogue with the criminals". Shipping traffic through the Suez Canal was halted so military equipment could cross into Sinai, and state media said four helicopters had transported a team of special forces. Omar Amer, a presidential spokesman, denied to reporters May 20 that Morsi had changed his stance, and stated that "all available means" would be used to free the men. "The presidency knows the measures it is taking, and it will take the right measure at the right time", he said. One soldier and six police officers are being held captive. Their disappearance at the hands of unknown men outraged their colleges, who shut down the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza on May 24 in protest and have kept it shut since. They shut another crossing with Israel on May 19, and the strike spread to five police stations across north Sinai on May 20. May 20's deployment was the largest military movement in Sinai since August, when Egypt launched a security campaign after a militant attack killed 16 Egyptian border guards. As the army moved toward Sinai, a group of Egyptian human rights organizations warned the government against a "shortsighted security solution" that did not address the grievances of Sinai's residents. The statement discussed the legal proceedings against men sentenced to death and lengthy prison terms in deadly Sinai attacks: the bombing of a hotel in the resort town of Taba in 2004 that killed 34 people and an armed attack on a police station in El Arish in 2011 that killed one police officer, one soldier and three others. The groups said that the men had been sentenced by state security courts that had exceptional powers under Egypt's emergency law and that many had been convicted with evidence obtained through torture and other illegal means.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Date:May 25, 2013
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