Israel Closes Tourist Airport Near Sinai Peninsula out of Security Concerns
The Sinai has been a hotbed of lawlessness and militarism since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, posing a threat to both Israel and Egypt. The temperatures can’t get much hotter than they already are in Eilat, but the security risks near the airport are apparently heating things up.
Israel shut its southernmost Eilat airport near Egypt’s Sinai peninsula on Thursday until further notice because of security concerns, the military said.
“Due to security assessments, the Israeli army has instructed Eilat Airport to cancel all departures and arrivals,” a military spokeswoman said, giving no further details.
The airport in the Red Sea city, wedged between Jordan and Egypt, brings tourists to Israel’s Eilat resort and the closure follows heightened concerns about Islamist militant activity in the neighbouring Sinai.
Air traffic often has been disrupted at Eilat by desert winds but the air strip has seldom been shut altogether.
The Israel Aviation Authority said eight flights scheduled to land at the city on Thursday would be diverted to another airport, Uvda, some 60 km (36 miles) away.
Israel said last month that it had boosted its rocket defences near its southern border to counter possible attacks from militants deeply opposed to the Jewish state.
A rocket fired from Sinai landed in Israel in July and its remnants were found in hills north of Eilat, which abuts Egypt to the west and Jordan to the east.
Violence in the Sinai has surged since the army ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi on July 3, with almost daily assaults against Egyptian forces reported in the desert expanse.
Egypt’s army said on Wednesday it had killed 60 militants in Sinai in the month since Mursi’s ouster, and that an additional 64 militants were injured in the Sinai campaign between July 5 and August 4.
The militants have killed around 40 people including Egyptian security personnel in this period, Egyptian medical officials said.
Israel had already invested heavily in security around Eilat since the fall of U.S.-backed Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011, which triggered concerns about the future of a 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, Israel’s first such deal with an Arab country.
Earlier this year Israel completed a 250-km (160-mile) barrier with Egypt, stretching from Eilat’s outskirts to the Palestinian Gaza Strip on the Mediterranean.
Other measures being taken to defend against jihadists in Sinai include an innovative, Israeli-designed missile deflector being fitted aboard planes.
Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Omar Fahmy, Maggie Fick, Shadia Nasralla in Cairo; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Michael Roddy.