Egypt’s armed forces command on Thursday ordered its military tanks to retreat from their positions in Sinai's “Zone A” to “Zone B,” approximately 50 kilometres away from the Rafah border crossing.
The towns of Balouza and Bair El-Abd are included in the “Zone B”, one of four vertical partitions of the Sinai Penninsula drawn up according to a stipulation in the Camp David Peace Treaty.
The move comes a day after what was reported to be an extensive manoeuvre by “Operation Eagle” in which 23 suspected terrorists were arrested and 11 killed.
The armed forces also confiscated a large amount of ammunition, including four machine guns, five boxes of Israeli ammunition, six hand grenades, five anti-tank mines and a BM-21 launch vehicle, according to a military official who revealed the information in a statement on Egyptian TV early Wednesday morning.
Commenting on Thursday’s move, a military source stated that it does not in any way represent the end of its military operation in Sinai since the deadly 5 August attack that killed 16 Egyptian border guards. There was “no longer any need for them (the tanks) in their previous position,” the source said.
Observers have said that the move heeds to Israel’s demands, as deployments earlier this month had brought complaints from Israel, as the peace treaty between the two countries bans heavy weapons from a zone along the Egypt-Israel border.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday announced that he expected the Egyptian army to withdraw its reinforcements from the peninsula at the end of its operation.
He also said Israel had "several reservations" over Egypt's deployment of reinforcements, some of which fell outside the terms of the 1979 peace treaty that limits the number of Egyptian troops in Sinai.
In Wednesday’s statement, the Egyptian military official claimed that the operation, which was originally aimed at securing vital establishments in Sinai, became a combat engagement with militants that will continue until "all terrorist and criminal activity is quashed."