A day after deadly Islamic State bombings struck two Egyptian churches, Israel closed its southern border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Monday and urged Israelis holiday-makers to leave Egypt amid worries of another round of militant attacks.
Shortly after the announcement, Israel’s military said that a rocket fired from Sinai exploded in southern Israel. No injuries or damage was reported, and there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the strike.
But the incident – and border closure – underscored concerns over the growing strength and boldness of Egypt’s Islamic State affiliate, which is based in Sinai.
In its statement, the Israeli government said their intelligence indicates “increased activity” by the Islamic State in Sinai and a “desire to commit terrorist attacks against tourists in Sinai, including Israelis, in the immediate term.”
The border closure appeared triggered by the bombing of Coptic churches on Sunday in the northern Egyptian cities of Tanta and Alexandria, killing at least 44 people and injuring more than 100. The attacks, carried out by suicide bombers and claimed by the Islamic State, came as worshipers had gathered for Palm Sunday ceremonies.
On Monday, dozens of funerals were being held in both cities for the victims.
Hundreds of black-clad mourners joined in processions of wooden coffins and beating drums. Many claimed the government has failed to protect its Christian minority, which accounts for about 10 percent of the population.
“Where should we go pray? They are attacking us in our churches. They don’t want us to pray but we will pray,” said Samira Adly, 53, whose neighbors were killed in the attack, the Reuters news agency reported.
The attacks also will likely sharper attention on security measures during a planned two-day visit to Cairo by Pope Francis beginning April 28.
In the wake of the bombings, Israel’s anti-terrorism office called upon all Israeli tourists in the southern Sinai to return home at once through the Taba border crossing, which remains open for Israelis.
The office also asked Israelis to cancel planned trips to Sinai, where they have long flocked to the picturesque beaches and azure waters of the Red Sea.
Monday marks the beginning of the Passover holiday that commemorates the biblical story of when Israelites fled from slavery in Egypt. As in most years, some 20,000 Israeli tourists were expected to pass through the Taba crossing into Sinai.
Many Israeli nationals have already crossed through over the past few days, and others were expected to enter Egypt on Monday.
Israel’s minister of intelligence Yisrael Katz said the crossing would remain closed at least until late Tuesday when the security situation would be reassessed.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Sudarsan Raghavan