Areas targeted last week by the Egyptian military in the Sinai Peninsula, northeast of Egypt, have become an important destination for human rights activists and local and international media.
A campaign launched by the army in the area has left pronounced marks on its houses, which were targeted in missile attacks, eyewitnesses say.
The confusing thing still is that some of the houses singled out for the attacks in al-Mahdiya village, south of Rafah on the Egyptian-Israeli border, used to be luxurious villas and palaces.
Residents of these houses turned tail once they heard about the army campaign. But some of them still spend the nights in tents they set up outside their bombed houses.
Rights advocates visited the village several times during the past few days. On Tuesday, several activists from the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights stopped by the village.
Local bloggers and analysts also call in on the village and take photos of the bombed houses before they post them either on their blogs or on social networking websites. Local and international journalists also visit.
Ibrahim al-Muniey, the coordinator of the Sinai Tribes Federation, a local NGO, said earlier that the army had torched down around 55 houses and 60 vehicles in the three villages of al-Mahdiya, al-Muqataa and Qouz Raad, which are located south of Rafah.
He said the houses and vehicles had been burned down in a "vengeful" manner, but admitted that most of these houses contained wanted Takfiri elements (people who accuse others of apostasy).
"We won't stand idly by and watch only," al-Muniey said. "We'll document the damage and ask for compensation."
The Egyptian military has started a military operation aiming at stamping out militants in Sinai. The campaign focused on the demolition of smuggling tunnels and houses in the border area between Egypt and the Palestinian Gaza Strip.
Sinai has been the center of rising tension since the January 25 revolution, which ended the autocracy of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The army says its campaign aims at destroying smuggling tunnels in the border area. Some tunnels, however, are located inside the homes of local residents.
Militant groups have escalated assaults on military and security targets in North Sinai since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. Scores of people, most of them army soldiers and police officers, were killed as a result.
Last week, six army soldiers were killed in an attack on a military intelligence headquarters in Rafah.
Mohamed al-Muniey, the owner of one of the burned houses, accused the military of burning down houses left by fearful families.
"Some houses were totally burned down," al-Muniey said. "Parts of the houses were then bombed, while the blaze destroyed remaining parts."
A village chieftain, who asked not to be named, said the army singles out some houses for attacks, while it leaves other houses intact.
A security source, however, said the army targets houses where Takfiri elements live or hide. He said one of the bombed houses belonged to Takfiri leader Shady al-Muniey.
He said although the house was bombed, al-Muniey fled unscathed.
"An area containing some cottage houses beside a mosque was also bombed," the source said, adding that some Takfiri elements used the cottage houses as hideouts.
The source added that Takfiris had hid large amounts of weapons inside the cottage houses.
He added that the army had targeted palaces owned by drug traders and traffickers.
A car owned by these people was targeted as well as containers used in the smuggling of fuel, the source said.
Some northern Sinai residents welcome the military campaign, blaming the presence of the tunnels for the social and security unrest that besets their province for months now. Other residents, however, complain that the authorities do not compensate the owners of the bombed houses.
AALast Mod: 14 Eylül 2013, 15:28