GAZA - Egyptian security forces have destroyed some 20 houses along the border with Gaza, local residents said on Tuesday, in what the Palestinian enclave's Islamist Hamas rulers fear is an effort to build a buffer zone to isolate them.
Egypt's military stepped up a campaign against Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula, bordering Gaza, after deposing Islamist president Mohamed Mursi following mass unrest, and has accused Gaza Palestinians of supporting the militants.
The crackdown, before and after Mursi's ouster, has included closures of tunnels from Gaza the military believes have been used to move weapons, gunmen and goods across the border.
Now, residents on the Egyptian side of the border say, the armed forces have also begun to tear down homes, apparently suspecting they are being used to hide tunnel entrances or provide cover for other militant activity.
The Egyptian crackdown is reminiscent of the demolitions that Israel, citing security concerns, used to carry out on the Palestinian side of the Egyptian border before it pulled troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005.
"We reject any concept of building a buffer zone. Buffer zones should not be built between brothers and between friendly countries," said Ehab al-Ghsain, spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza.
An Egyptian army source confirmed the military had intensified its campaign to close tunnels but said he knew of no instructions to put a buffer zone in place.
Residents on the Egyptian side of the border said that at least 20 homes had been torn down.
One resident, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters by telephone that he counted 17 destroyed houses, all located within 700 metres (yards) of the frontier.