Israeli tourists warned of imminent kidnap threat in Sinai peninsula


JERUSALEM — Israel warned its nationals on Tuesday that there was an imminent risk of kidnap attempts by militants against holidaymakers in the neighbouring Sinai peninsula in Egypt.

Israel’s anti-terrorism unit said it had “concrete information” about an “imminent risk of a terrorist abduction operation.”

Israel already issued a general warning to its citizens in February about the dangers of travel over the next few months to the Red Sea resort area which is a major draw.

But despite the travel advice, some 20,000 Israeli tourists still holidayed in the Sinai over the Jewish Passover holiday in late March and early April.

The anti-terrorism unit cited “threats from (Lebanese Shiite militant group) Hezbollah and Iran.”

A senior Egyptian security official contacted by AFP said the interior ministry was looking into the Israeli travel warning.

But other officials played it down, saying that it was based on “rumours” and that there was no credible intelligence suggesting tourists were under threat.

Israeli military radio reported that the warning was issued following an unconfirmed rumour about the kidnapping of an Israeli.

The Sinai has been the scene of three major bombing attacks targeting Israeli or Western tourists.

In April 2006, 20 people were killed in the resort of Dahab; in July 2005, 70 people were killed in the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh; and in October 2004, 34 people were killed in Taba, hard by the Israeli border.

In April last year, Egyptian authorities said they had unveiled a plot by sympathisers of Hezbollah, which fought a devastating war with Israel in 2006, to kidnap or kill Israelis in the Sinai.

The security forces carried out extensive search operations in the peninsula’s mountainous interior at the time, sparking protests among the indigenous Bedouin nomads.

An Egyptian court is to hand down its verdict later this month against 26 suspected members of the alleged Hezbollah cell. Prosecutors have called for death sentences in the trial, in which all but four of the accused are in the dock.

Hezbollah has said repeatedly that its only operatives in Egypt have been exclusively engaged in smuggling arms and money to the Islamist Hamas movement which controls Gaza.

Egypt depends heavily on its tourism industry. Revenues totalled 10.76 billion dollars last year despite a 2.1 percent decline in receipts in the face of the recession hitting its main European markets.

Around 12.5 million tourists visited the country in 2009, including more than two million from Russia.

Tourism Minister Zoheir Garana said in February that the government hoped to see arrivals rise to 14 million this year, bringing in revenues of 11.5 billion dollars.