Israelis Warned About Possible Terror Attacks in Sinai

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Cut off from Israel by tight security around the Gaza Strip, Palestinian terrorists may travel across the Egyptian-Gaza border to attack Israelis vacationing in the Egyptian Sinai Desert, officials here are saying.

Israel issued a travel advisory for Israelis on Sunday, warning them to cancel plans to visit the Sinai Desert for the upcoming Jewish holidays, which begin at sundown on Monday evening. The advisory urged Israelis who are already there to come home immediately.

As part of Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip three weeks ago, Israel handed over control of the border area between Egypt and the Gaza Strip to the Egyptians and Palestinians.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians flooded back and forth across the border for days, buying goods at cheaper prices in Egypt, visiting relatives and smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip before security was tightened in the area.

Now Israel is concerned that terrorists may take advantage of the porous border to slip across into the Gaza Strip and carry out terror attacks against Israelis visiting resorts in the Sinai Desert, which are extremely popular among Israelis.

"Hamas and Islamic Jihad cannot come into Israel directly [because of the tight security]," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

They cannot go north or east, but because of the porous border between Gaza and Egypt they can go south, Regev said. "These sort of groups could kidnap and kill Israelis."

There is also concern that there may have been collaboration between Palestinian terrorists and international terrorist groups operating in the Sinai Desert, he said.

There have been two deadly attacks in the Sinai during the last year, with suspected al Qaeda involvement.

In July, 88 people were killed and hundreds wounded in a terror attack on the resort area of Sharm el Sheikh. In October 2004, when northern Sinai resorts were packed with Israeli tourists, terrorists carried out a twin terror attacks, killing 34 people including 12 Israelis.

Brig.-Gen. Danny Arditi, head of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau of the National Security Council, said on Saturday that Israel had specific information that terrorists were planning to kidnap Israelis in the Sinai.

An Israeli Channel One television analyst said that the Palestinian terrorists had planned to smuggle the kidnapped Israelis back across the border into Gaza to use as bargaining chips in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Israelis, who often do not heed travel warnings, nevertheless did pay attention to their government's urgent appeal.

About 2,000 of the 3,000 Israelis already vacationing in Sinai had come home by Monday, reports said, although about 150 Israelis crossed into the Sinai Desert according to border officials.

Some 40,000 Israelis had been expected to go to Sinai during the holidays but an estimated half of those canceled, Yossi Patel, director of the Association of Travel Agents, was quoted as saying.

Last year, security officials warned Israelis not to travel to the Sinai during the Succoth holidays shortly before the massive terror attacks took place there.

Meanwhile, Israel beefed up its security around the country against possible terror attacks on Monday ahead of the start of the Jewish holiday of Rosh HaShanah.

The heightened alert will last about three to four weeks, through the Jewish festivals and the Muslim month of Ramadan, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

Rosenfeld added that there were no specific warnings of possible attacks in the country during the holidays.

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.