Rumors of an attempted abduction of an Israeli citizen by Arab terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula were proven false late Tuesday night, but Israeli citizens are continuing to be told to stay out of the Sinai Peninsula due to a “serious and immediate” terror alert.
Citing concrete information that a terror cell was on the way to carry out an attack, Israeli government officials issued an urgent warning to the public Tuesday through all media outlets, telling citizens to contact family members traveling in Egypt.
The officials declined to specify which terrorist group was beginning to carry out the operation, but they said the attack was aimed at kidnapping an Israeli citizen who could be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations between Hamas and Jerusalem. IDF commanders were ordered to count their soldiers and check the whereabouts of each member of their units. By evening it was clear that no one was missing.
More than 5,000 Israelis had entered the region in defiance of travel warnings published prior to the Passover holiday by the Israel National Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Bureau; it was estimated that at least 1,200 were still in Sinai on Tuesday afternoon.
The unusually harsh wording of the advisory bluntly told citizens at home to phone their relatives who had traveled to Egypt and inform them of the warning ordering them to leave the area immediately and return to the Jewish State. The warning was also repeated over loudspeakers at the Taba Terminal.
“Terrorist threats against Israelis that continue to exist in Sinai are threats of murder and kidnapping,” warned the Bureau on its website Tuesday night. “Hizbullah's continued involvement increases the severity of these threats,” it continued.
The Lebanon-based Hizbullah terrorist organization vowed two years ago to exact revenge on Israel for the February 2008 assassination of its second-in-command, Imad Mughniyeh, who died in a car bombing in Damascus.
Despite the warnings, however, some Israelis remained in Sinai beach resorts though many vacationers had decided to leave by nightfall, after receiving phone calls from concerned relatives and hearing the warnings broadcast via Israeli media.
Brigadier General (res.) Yehuda Nuriel noted Tuesday night that terrorists might attempt to bring a kidnapping victim into Gaza through the smuggler tunnels that run under the border town of Rafiah.
The latest intelligence information, said Nuriel, indicated that a terror cell had “completed its preparations, was marking a target, received a green light and had either already carried out the operation or was en route to carrying it out.” Egyptian security forces were deployed across the Sinai Peninsula following the warning issued by Israel in an attempt to thwart an attack.
In October 2004, suicide bombers blew up the Taba Hilton Hotel as well as a number of camp sites, all close to the border with Israel. Dozens were killed and hundreds of others were wounded. Among the dead were 12 Israelis. A September 2009 attempt by terrorists to blow up an Israeli tour bus traveling between Taba and Sharm a-Sheikh failed when a technical malfunction prevented the bomb from exploding.