CAIRO, May 24, 2013 — On May 23, 2013, seven soldiers were abducted at the Rafah borders between Egypt and Israel. Official news reported that unidentified gunmen kidnapped the off-duty soldiers on the border. Six of the soldiers work under the Ministry of Interior and one is a non-commissioned officer with the border guard.
Three days after their disappearance, the kidnappers released a video showing the soldiers blindfolded and bound. They demanded the release of Sinai political prisoners in exchange for the release of the soldiers.
Politicians were divided on how to handle the situation. Some held meetings to offer solutions while others called for military intervention. Meanwhile, President Mohammed Morsi announced he will not negotiate with terrorists and that the law is above all.
The incident marks an escalation in the level of danger in the Sinai. Recently, a rumor that authorities in Cairo Tura prison had tortured a Bedouin prisoner ignited protests from Bedouins in the Sinai. In south Sinai, there have been several attempts to kidnap tourists to use as bargaining chips to win the release of imprisoned relatives. Since there are virtually no tourists in the Sinai now, border soldiers and security personnel are targeted as potential bargaining chips.
Egypt has little control over the Sinai, complicated by the fact that it does not have full sovereignty over the territory. It must inform Israel whenever it seeks to increase troop numbers in the region.
Over the last few days, eyewitnesses report heavy deployments of military personnel in the Sinai. However, a military spokesman denied that Egypt is launching a military rescue, which he said is the last resort. Meanwhile, the chiefs of the Bedouin tribes in the Sinai offered to negotiate with the kidnappers.
On Wednesday, May 22, the soldiers were released without negotiations. According the military spokesperson, the government has information on the kidnappers but will not release it publicly for security reasons.
The Egyptian public reacted negatively to the statement. They say they want clarification of the incident, which they described as mysterious. They note that authorities have developed a habit of revealing only partial information to the public. Ahmed Ezzat, a social rights lawyer, believes that the lack of information about what happened between the state and the kidnappers makes it difficult to form any concrete opinion on its effect on society.
Police spokesperson Major general Hani Abdel Latif reiterated that the release of the 7 soldiers is not the end of the incident and that the authorities would bring the kidnappers to justice soon. When asked about the fate of the 4 police officers kidnapped in Sinai two years ago, he said the situation is different and that the ministry of interior is exerting efforts to find them and that they still have hope.
President Morsi calls on all armed groups in Sinai to hand in their weapons to the authorities. He also thanked the Sinai Sheikhs and chiefs for their effort in solving such crisis.
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