Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Did you hear any stories last month about a video showing the burnt bodies of four babies reportedly killed by Egyptian missiles and tank shells in their homes south of Sheikh Zuwaid, Sinai?  (WARNING: Graphic)

It was reported by an obscure Egyptian news agency on September 15, and the story died there.

An Egyptian blogger visited the town and his report confirms that it certainly appeared that the reports of seven civilians killed , including the four children, was legitimate.

Ten days later, Al Monitor had a story about the fear of Sinai residents, taking care to make it look like any civilian deaths were either by Islamists or were innocent mistakes:
“We are not upset with the army, but it sometimes fires randomly killing a lot of people,” said a woman in her 50s, carrying a child. Indeed, one of the residents of Sheikh Zuwaid , who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that his 70-year-old father was shot by internal security forces snipers as he was heading to the pharmacy at 4:30 p.m. Given his old age, the man did not hear the warning of officers and received a bullet in the head.

Now, Al Masry al Youm does some real reporting from the areas that the Egyptian army established a news blackout:
Women cry and howl, and their children gaze with distant looks in their eyes as they clutch their mothers’ arms, telling journalist Mouna Elzamlout about the military strike in Mahdeya, a small village in North Sinai.

Elzamlout, managing editor of Wust el-Balad el-Ikhbary, a small news outlet working out of North Sinai, finds a sobbing woman at a loss for words. The woman reveals her elderly mother could not leave the house in time before the army obliterated the house. “They attacked with more than thirty tanks, armored vehicles and helicopters over them. They open fired and used missiles. They left nothing. Nothing is left at our place,” the woman cries.

In a 19 September press conference, the official army spokesman Col. Ahmed Mohamed Ali vowed the armed forces would continue its Sinai operation until all terrorists and outlaws were cleared. The military offensive on the village of Mahdeya is purportedly part of this campaign to root out terrorists taking refuge in the area.

When Elzamlout first heard of the military strike in Mahdeya, she grabbed her camera, jumped in her car and went to survey the damage. Elzamlout told Egypt Independent she found the villagers gathered in an open area, with all their houses destroyed and burned. “There was no other place for them to stand. Some cars were burned and animals as well,” she said.

Elzamlout then uploaded the videos to YouTube to show proof of the damage done. “I won’t be able to build another home for ten years,” sobbed another woman in one of Elzamlout’s videos as she shows Elzamlout her burned out garage. “We are poor people... I swear we are kind people!”

A man standing in front of his destroyed home, summed up the raid on the village to Elzamlout. “They put us all together over here, ” he said, pointing to an open field. “And they burned all the houses with helicopters and tanks. Then they drank their tea and left.”

The man tells Elzamlout that none of the villagers in the operation were arrested. “They just blew it up and left,” he said, exasperated.

As children play with what appear to be tank bullet casings below him, the man shows Elzamlout his brother’s house next door, which was burnt out, then counts up the houses destroyed as Elzamlout pans the camera to see. “Ten, including my mom’s house,” he concludes. “We are Egyptian citizens, we are not terrorists!”

Elzamlout also found villagers who claimed their houses were looted by soldiers and the gold was missing. One woman claimed 140 grams of gold was taken from her. The man also said gold jewelry was missing. “They didn’t even leave us clothes to wear,” he said.

Elzamlout points out this incident is just a small example of a wider problem with the armed forces campaign in Sinai. She also spoke to residents of el-Gouna and el-Moqata’ who told her the military has burned down many houses. “They said the security forces are burning every house that looks like a hut and they don't know it’s a house. They call them headquarters of terrorism,” she said.

Ibrahim Menai, head of the Sinai Tribes Union and one of the most powerful tribal figures in Sinai, told Egypt Independent that civilians die every day at the hands of the police and military. “I’m talking about the innocent, the unarmed,” he added.

Menai described an attack near his home a few weeks ago where he claims 50 people died, eight of them children. In Mahdeya village, he says about 60 houses burned down, and in El-Moqataa village, about 40 houses. In the villages of Toma and Helu combined, Menai says around 80 houses burned. “Two-hundred ten houses have been destroyed in an area of 10 by 10 kilometers squared,” he claims.

Unfortunately, due to the media blackout in Sinai, verifying Menai’s claims are particularly difficult. The Egyptian army has been restricting the entrance of journalists into Sinai as they continue their ongoing anti-terrorism campaign in the region. Giving an accurate account of events becomes especially difficult when both sides tell vastly different versions of the same story.

The military has refused to mention civilian deaths during their Sinai operations, only distinguishing between deaths in the armed forces and the deaths of militants or Palestinians. Col. Ali, the military spokesman, said in the 19 September press conference that military deaths had reached 125, while militant deaths 134, since January 2011.

Egypt Independent spoke to an informed source within the army, who denied any civilian deaths had occurred, and only those who had been killed at the hands of the army were those of the terrorists. “The troops are well trained and they know where they're going,” he said.
The Egyptian army also claimed that the video above was really from Syria. I have no way of confirming that:
A public outcry in Sinai was raised when a YouTube video, posted by Rasad news showed a group of four dead children, supposedly killed during a raid of Sheikh Zuwayid, a village in North Sinai, carried out on 13 September. In the video, a man holds up the body of a dead little girl, blaming General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi for her death.

A Sinai-based Islamist group called Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, who claimed credit for the assassination attempt of Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim and other recent attacks on the Egyptian military, posted a statement on jihadist forums, posted two days after the military raid, denouncing what they say was the killing of seven civilians, among them four children. It said the children, aged one to seven years-old, died from “tank bombardment.”

The statement, which listed the names of those allegedly killed, said a widowed mother and another woman also died in the military assault. The militant group added that a 23-year-old man was run over by an armored vehicle in front of his family in another incident that day, and warned retaliation for the “blood of innocent Muslims”.

The army official addressed the YouTube video, which had been widely circulated on Facebook, saying it was merely a propagandist response to Col. Ahmed Ali’s press conference. “There were some rumors of pictures circulating of children killed about four or five together,” he explained. “We found out that these pictures are from Syria. They’re not from here. They posted the video three days after the end of the operation. If there were an attack and children were killed, would you wait three days to show the video or would you post it the next day or the same day at night?”

Despite reservations about the military strategy, both Menai and Elzamlout said the people of Sinai in general support operations to arrest criminals and bring safety the Sinai region. Menai emphasized that after the killing of members of the army and police by militants, the armed forces should pursue the perpetrators. “The Bedouins naturally love justice and what’s right,” he declared. “We in Sinai condemn terrorism. If it comes from far away, or from groups, or from the government, we don’t like it. We are against terrorism everywhere.”

...“The Egyptian military follows a policy of scorched Earth,” Menai said, referring to the burning of houses and mass arrests. “It’s about disciplinary campaigns. Why do you punish the unarmed man in his house? This does not work. You create every day 100 terrorists. And if you kill people, you will create many terrorists. ”

The informed military source denied any issues with the operations regarding wrongful arrests of civilians or burning of homes, stressing that the military is merely clearing out terrorist nests. “There’s nothing hard about it. [The army] receives information about some terrorist groups in Sinai through military intelligence and state security. Then they reach their places and arrest them in their homes. They go to the terrorist hot beds and clear them,” he explained.

The situation has been further complicated by the arrest of one of more than one journalist in the Sinai, including Al-Masry Al-Youm reporter, Ahmed Abu Draa, who was known for his award-winning reporting in the Sinai, under the army’s charge of “spreading false news” and being within a prohibited military zone without a permit.
It is true that both sides in Egypt habitually lie to the media. Lurid rumors are all over the place from both sides.

But the media - and human rights organizations - certainly don't seem to be bothered enough to try to find the truth.

It isn't as though they reporters are that far away. They seem to find time to file multiple reports about a neighboring country that legally dismantles homes.


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