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Originally published Sunday, September 1, 2013 at 7:40 PM

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Egypt moves to secure Suez Canal zone

The attack on a container ship traversing the waterway that handles about 8 percent of world trade added an ominous dimension to the country’s unrest.

Bloomberg News

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CAIRO — Egyptian authorities moved to bolster security along the Suez Canal after a foiled attack on a container ship traversing the waterway that handles about 8 percent of world trade spotlighted new threats confronting officials after Mohammed Morsi’s ouster.

The failed Friday attack on the Panama-registered Cosco Asia didn’t damage the ship or its cargo, Suez Canal Authority head Mohab Mamish said in a statement Sunday. The military dealt “decisively” with the attempt, he said, without giving details.

The maritime incident underscored the threats in the country as the military-backed government pursues an offensive against the Muslim Brotherhood and extremists after Morsi’s July 3 ouster. More than 1,000 people have died, most of them supporters of the toppled Islamist leader who were killed in a single week in August in clashes with security forces.

After Morsi was pushed from power, Egypt declared a state of emergency and enforced a curfew that’s since been eased — all in what has been a largely successful bid to quash the protests led by the Brotherhood and their Islamist allies.

Morsi will face trial in a Cairo criminal court along with 14 Muslim Brotherhood leaders for “inciting violence and killing” in events that occurred near the el-Itihadiya palace in Cairo on Dec. 5, news agency MENA reported, citing Prosecutor Mohamed Hisham.

Authorities Sunday ordered Sobhi Saleh, another Brotherhood leader, held for 15 days pending investigation after he was arrested in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. Saleh faces allegations including inciting violence, according to the Alexandria prosecutor’s office Sunday. In all, more than 1,000 Brotherhood members, including its supreme guide, have been arrested, with some facing charges as serious as murder.

Keeping canal traffic flowing normally became a concern even before Morsi was deposed.

The Suez Canal and SUMED pipeline, as the link between Egypt’s ports of Ain Sukhna on the Red Sea and Sidi Kerir on the Mediterranean is known, together handled 3.8 million barrels a day of crude and products, according to 2011 data cited by the International Energy Agency. Most of that traffic was northbound.

The recent unrest has undercut Egypt’s hopes to rally an economy stunted since longtime leader Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in 2011. It’s also led some key allies, including the United States and European Union, to talk about withholding aid.

13 homes razed near Gaza Strip

CAIRO — Egypt’s military has bulldozed 13 homes along the Gaza Strip border and caved in tunnels beneath them as a prelude to the possible creation of a buffer zone to reduce weapon smuggling and illegal extremists crossings, angering residents who said they were evicted with no compensation, security officials and residents said Sunday.

The military envisions creating a building-free zone with no trees starting at the Rafah border crossing and ending at the Mediterranean Sea, Northern Sinai government officials said.

The move comes as Egypt’s interim government and military attempt to assert more stringent state control over the largely lawless northern Sinai Peninsula, where Islamic extremists have turned large areas into strongholds from which they have waged repeated attacks on security forces, Christians and tribal leaders — compounding the country’s security woes following the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July. Homes and trees along the Gaza border have been used as cover for rebels to fire at border guards.

Ehab Ghussein, a spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza, said he feared the creation of a buffer zone would be a step toward imposing “a new blockade on Gaza and increase the suffering of its people.”

The Egyptian military has closed much of the once-bustling tunnel system, but some remain along the border. Residents angered by the past days’ bulldozing staged a sit-in protest in Rafah on Sunday.

The tunnels have been used for years to transport goods and people, including weapons and extremists back and forth between Sinai and Gaza.

Egypt is concerned about rebels moving back and forth between Gaza and Sinai through the illicit tunnels, and is struggling to control jihadist sympathizers in the desert peninsula in what it calls a “war against terrorism.”

News of the home destructions came a day after Egyptian authorities arrested a top extremist named Adel Jabara, identifying him as an al-Qaida leader in the Sinai Peninsula. He is accused of masterminding the killings of 25 off-duty soldiers last month. The attack was one of Egypt’s worst strikes since last year’s killing of 16 soldiers near Rafah by masked gunmen.

Under its peace treaty with Israel, Egypt must coordinate any large-scale military operations in the northern Sinai with Israeli officials.

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