Egypt’s largest Bedouin tribe excoriated Hamas for allowing ISIS members to enter the Gaza Strip through the Sinai tunnels and for supplying them with weapons, training and medical care.
The feud between the largest Bedouin tribe in Egypt’s lawless Sinai Peninsula and Islamic State terrorists there has sharply escalated since May 22, when ISIS gunmen murdered four Bedouin near Rafah in a dispute over cigarette smuggling. The four members of the Tarabin tribe were beheaded; their corpses were sent back south to Bedouin territory near the village of Tarabin, adjoining the Gulf of Aqaba port of Nuweiba, to be discovered by their fellow tribesmen.
A-Tirabin is considered the largest Bedouin tribe in Israel’s Negev and the adjoining Sinai Peninsula. The tribe comprises 500,000 members living in Israel, Sinai and mainland Egypt, including Cairo, Ismailia, Giza and Suez, as well as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gaza Strip. Until the 19th century, the tribe was settled in the Taraba Valley in the Hijaz in today’s Saudi Arabia.
Once allies, the conflict between the Tarabin Bedouin and ISIS began in April when ISIS gunmen challenged the tribe over its longstanding and lucrative smuggling operation to the Gaza Strip. With the decline in tourism to Sinai’s beaches caused by terrorism, tribesmen have come increasingly to rely on smuggling as their main livelihood. Besides cigarettes, their cross-border contraband includes drugs and weapons as well as infiltration of prostitutes and African labor workers.
Insisting that the smuggling of cigarettes into the Gaza Strip is contrary to Islam’s Sharia law, ISIS blew up a Tarabin truck used to ferry cigarettes from Egypt to the smuggling tunnels below the Gaza Strip-Egypt frontier.
Encouraged by senior Egyptian officials, Tarabin members cut their ties with ISIS. Earlier this month, an Islamic State suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint at Rafah, killing four members of the tribe and wounding a number of others. In reprisal, tribesmen executed an ISIS militant they had been holding captive.
In response, ISIS kidnapped two tribal youths. Armed Tarabin further retaliated by kidnapping ISIS members and demanding an exchange of prisoners, which the latter refused.
In mid-May, Tarabin fighters announced they had destroyed three ISIS vehicles, killed seven ISIS members, and taken three more captive. The next day, photos of 10 captured ISIS operatives were published by the Tarabin, including one they claim is Assad al-Amarin, identified by Egyptian media as responsible for supplying and financing the terrorist organization in Sinai.
To date, 20 Tarabin tribesmen have been killed in the armed confrontation with ISIS in the Rafah area and the nearby town of Sheikh Zuweid.
Hamas Accused of Being an ISIS Ally
Enhancing their new alliance with Egypt’s government, the Tarabin fighters – who call themselves the Tribal Union of Sinai – turned over to security forces the quantities of weapons, explosive materials and mines which they captured from ISIS.
The tribal union’s military wing is called the Shahid Salem Lafi Brigades. On May 24, the union released a leaflet accusing Hamas – which seized power in the Gaza Strip in 2007 – of being an ISIS ally.
The leaflet excoriated Hamas for allowing ISIS members to enter the Gaza Strip through the Sinai tunnels and for supplying them with weapons, training and medical care.
The leaflet warned Hamas not to assist ISIS terrorists and demanded the extradition to Egypt of all ISIS operatives hiding in the Gaza Strip.
“We will not allow anyone to help ISIS and we will strike with iron fists anyone who defies the blood of the martyrs,” the leaflet read.
The Bedouin, now allied with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, pledged to return quiet to the once somnolent Sinai, and sent a message to ISIS: “You will find no mercy or compassion on our part. The screams of the mothers of shaheeds and their curses will chase you into your graves, detention cells, and tunnels.”
According to a May 16, 2017 report in the Cairo daily Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed, Egypt’s General Intelligence Service warned al-Sissi about the escalation of the war in Sinai between the Bedouin tribes and ISIS.
Egypt’s state-run media view the alliance of Sinai’s Bedouin tribes and the Egyptian army against ISIS as a victory for the country over Islamic terrorists.
By Gil Zohar, World Israel News