CAIRO - Egypt began razing houses and moving hundreds of families living along the Gaza border Wednesday, as part of sweeping efforts to stop what authorities say are "terrorist operations" originating in the Palestinian territory via tunnels.
The plan reportedly includes digging a channel filled with sea water to stop further tunneling under the border, according to Arab media.
The evacuation follows a state of emergency declaration in northern Sinai prompted by an attack that killed more than 30 Egyptian soldiers last Friday. Authorities also announced a dawn-to-dusk curfew in the wake of the attack, the deadliest on Egyptian soldiers in years.
Footage shown by Al Jazeera showed a bulldozer knocking down a cement- and cinder-block buildings in the northern Sinai town of Rafah. The report said Egyptian authorities had ordered 600 families in one area of Rafah to leave their homes.
Egyptian media reported that local army commanders gave residents 48 hours to remove belongings. Reports said families were being paid to move out.
Officials believe last week’s attack was linked to forces inside Gaza, Egyptian political sociologist Said Sadek said.
"Their aim is to reduce social or military support from Gaza. The idea is that you create a real buffer zone that makes it difficult for any big operation to take place. Egypt and Israel agree on this,” Sadek said. “There is a lot of security coordination between the two countries, because they have a common enemy: terrorism.”
Al Arabiya said the Egyptian military was planning to build what amounted to a moat, filled with sea water, along the 9-mile border between Gaza and the Sinai, to flood existing tunnels and deter building new ones.
Complicating matters is the population of northern Sinai, which is dominated by Bedouin, who have a history of prickly relations with Cairo, Sadek said.
Egypt has been roiled by unrest since July 2013 when the military ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. Militant attacks on the Sinai have killed hundreds of soldiers and law enforcement officers since that time.