The Taba border terminal has never looked so deserted during the holiday season: The harsh travel warning issued by the Counter-Terror Bureau regarding the possibility that terror groups may attempt to kidnap Israelis in Sinai has influenced a few Israeli vacationers to head home.
Meanwhile, the police are deploying in force across Israel and have declared the highest state of alert ahead of Rosh Hashana. The closure imposed on the West Bank and Gaza will remain in force, as authorities contend with 55 terror warnings.
Large forces will be deployed particularly near the territories and around Jerusalem, while other troops are deployed around major cities. Security activity will be boosted in crowded areas, including markets, bus stops, and train station. On Monday, the eve of the holiday, forces will focus on synagogues and highways.
Taba terminal manager Itzik Chai told Ynet that some 2,200 people, mostly Israelis, have crossed the border into Sinai since Thursday.
Israelis heading home from Sinai (Photo: Seya Egozy)
“40,000 Israelis usually cross the border during the holidays, but most enter Sinai on Yom Kippur or Sukkot,” he said.
“On Saturdays most of those who head out to Sinai are casino gamblers. God only knows what will happen during the holidays following the travel warning.”
'A checkpoint at every hotel'
Shlomit from Jerusalem said, “We stayed at a hotel some 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the border (in Sinai). We were the only guests in the 110-room hotel. Our children, who were supposed to join us, called to say they were not coming and told us of the travel warnings. The friends who were supposed to come canceled their reservations, so we decided to go back to Israel.”
Israelis coming back from Sinai said the Egyptians are taking unprecedented security measures to ensure the tourists’ safety.
“We were in Ras a-Satan,” Tal from Tel Aviv said. “There is a checkpoint at the entrance to every hotel and there is a large presence of Egyptian police forces. There are no Israelis at all. Guards are patrolling the beaches at night. We were in Sinai for three days, and now we are going back, as planned. We didn’t hear about the travel warnings.”
Three other Israeli youngsters hurried back after receiving word of the warnings.
“Our parents and friends called us; they were hysterical, so we came back,” one of them said. “We are very disappointed.”
As previously mentioned, the few Israelis who did cross the border Saturday were on their way to gamble at the Hilton Taba casino.
“Be careful that they don’t kidnap you,” a taxi driver shouted in jest to an Israeli gambler who crossed the border carrying her purse only.
Earlier the Counter-Terror Bureau warned that intelligence information indicates that terror groups may attempt to kidnap Israeli tourists in Sinai during the upcoming holiday season.
In light of the information the bureau has reissued its severe travel warning on Egypt in general and Sinai in particular. The Bureau recommended that Israelis currently visiting Egypt return to Israel at once.
'Leave Sinai at once'
Counter-Terror Bureau Director Dani Baliliti said the intelligence information is “concrete and very severe and should be treated seriously.”
“The information is serious, just as it was when we issued our previous travel warnings, which proved to be justified,” he said.
“I suggest that all those currently vacationing in Sinai leave.”
Travel warnings are posted each year ahead of the New Year, Yom Kippur and Sukkot holidays, as well as prior to Passover and Shavuot.
In October 2004 Israelis were warned not to travel to Sinai due to information of possible terror attacks there; thousands chose to ignore the warning and headed down south to Sinai’s beaches. That Sukkot holiday ended in disaster, as a series of bombings that targeted Ras a-Satan Beach and the Taba Hilton left dozens dead.
Despite the attacks, Israelis continued to pour into the Sinai Peninsula the following Passover.
Last July 88 people were killed and some 200 were wounded when a series of explosions rocked the Egyptian Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh and hotels at nearby Naama Bay.
Diana Bahur-Nir contributed to this report