CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt's military has intensified home demolitions in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula as part of its campaign against a local affiliate of the Islamic State group, an international rights group said Tuesday.
The military launched a massive security operation in early February in restive northern Sinai, the epicenter of an Islamic insurgency spearheaded by the local IS affiliate. The campaign also includes parts of the Nile Delta region and the Western Desert, along the porous border with Libya.
Human Rights Watch said in a report that Egypt's military vastly expanded widespread destruction of homes, commercial buildings and farms in Northern Sinai province since Feb. 9.
"The new destruction, including hundreds of hectares of farmland and at least 3,000 homes and commercial buildings, together with 600 buildings destroyed in January, is the largest since the army officially began evictions in 2014," HRW said.
"Turning people's homes into rubble is part of the same self-defeating security plan that has restricted food and movement to inflict pain on Sinai residents," said Sarah Leah Whitson, the watchdog's Mideast director.
HRW said the destruction has extended well beyond two government-designated security buffer zones in Sinai cities of al-Arish and Rafah.
Egypt has built the buffer zone along Gaza's border in an effort to prevent militants from using a vast underground tunnel network that was created to evade a decade-old Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the territory. It also bulldozed homes and olive groves around the el-Arish airport where IS militants attempted to hit the country's defense and interior ministers in December.
Egypt has been battling Islamic militants for years in Sinai, but the insurgency gained strength after the 2013 overthrow of an Islamist president.