Peninsula, northeastern Egypt. Located between the Gulfs of Suez and Aqaba at the northern end of the Red Sea, it covers some 23,500 sq mi (61,000 sq km). Its southern region is mountainous and includes Mount Sinai, while its northern two-thirds is an arid plateau known as the Sinai Desert. Inhabited since prehistoric times, it is famous as the purported route of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt. For centuries its northern coast was the main trade route between Egypt and Palestine. From the 2nd century AD until the rise of Islam in the 7th century, it was part of the Roman Empire and its successor, the Byzantine Empire. It was ruled by various Islamic dynasties until the 16th century, when it became part of the Ottoman Empire. Turned over to Egypt at the end of World War I, in 1918, it was the scene of heavy fighting during the Suez Crisis (1956), the Six-Day War (1967), and the Yom Kippur War (1973); it was occupied by Israel (1967–82) and then was returned to Egypt. See Arab-Israeli wars.
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The Sinai Peninsula or Sinai (Coptic: sina; Egyptian Arabic: sina سينا; Arabic, sina'a سيناء; Sinin in most Semitic languages, סיני Sinai) is a triangular peninsula in Egypt. It lies between the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Red Sea to the south, forming a land bridge from Africa to Southwest Asia. Its area is about 60,000 km². The Egyptians call it the Land of Fayrouz.
The Sinai was inhabited by the Monitu and was called Mafkat or Country of Turquoise. From the time of the First dynasty or before, the Egyptians mined turquoise in Sinai at two locations, now called by their Arabic names Wadi Maghareh and Serabit el-Khadim. The mines were worked intermittently and on a seasonal basis for thousands of years. Modern attempts to exploit the deposits have been unprofitable. These may be the first known mines.
The Mamluks of Egypt controlled the Sinai from 1260 until 1518, when the Ottoman Sultan, Selim the Grim, destroyed them at the Battles of Marj Dabiq and al-Raydaniyya. From then until the early 20th century, Sinai, as part of the Pashalik of Egypt, was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. In 1906 it became part of British-controlled Egypt, when the Turkish government yielded to British pressure to hand over the peninsula. The border imposed by the British runs in an almost straight line from Rafah on the Mediterranean shore to Taba on the Gulf of Aqaba. This line has served as the eastern border of Sinai ever since, and is now the international border between Israel and Egypt.
In 1948, Egyptian forces passed through Sinai on their way to invade the newly-established modern state of Israel, resulting from the United Nations partition dividing the land between the Jews and the Arabs. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Israeli forces entered the north-eastern corner of Sinai, but withdrew shortly after, following British and American pressure. Under the terms of the 1949 Armistice Agreement, Sinai, together with the Gaza Strip, remained under Egyptian control, although parts of it were demilitarized.
In 1956, Egypt used its control of Sinai to impose a blockade on the Israeli port of Eilat. Following this Israeli forces, aided by Britain and France (which sought to regain control over the Suez Canal), invaded Sinai and took control of the entire peninsula within a few days (see Suez Crisis). Several months later Israel withdrew its forces from Sinai, following strong American and Soviet pressure. Following this the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was stationed in Sinai to prevent any military occupation of the Sinai.
In 1967, Egypt reinforced its military presence in Sinai, renewed the blockade on Eilat, and on May 16 ordered the UNEF out of Sinai with immediate effect. Secretary-General U Thant eventually complied and ordered the withrawal without Security Council authorization. In response to Egyptian actions and anticipating an attack, Israel initiated the Six-Day War in which the Egyptian army was defeated, and Israel took control over the entire peninsula. The Suez Canal, the east bank of which was now controlled by Israel, was closed.
In the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Egyptian engineering forces built pontoon bridges to cross the Suez Canal, and stormed the supposedly impregnable Bar-Lev Line while many Israeli soldiers were observing the holiday Yom Kippur. Within a few weeks, however, Israeli Commander Ariel Sharon's Armoured Division crossed the Suez and cut off the Egyptian 3rd Army, reestablishing Israeli control over the eastern side of the canal. After this conflict, as part of the subsequent Sinai Disengagement Agreements, Israel withdrew from the canal and allowed its reopening to both Israeli and Egyptian ships.
In 1979, Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in which Israel agreed to transfer all control over Sinai to Egypt, despite the fact that large oil reserves had recently been found in the region. Subsequently Israel pulled out of Sinai in several stages, ending in 1982. The Israeli pull-out involved dismantling almost all Israeli settlements, including the town of Yamit in north-eastern Sinai. The exception was Ofira, which became the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.
The Sinai Peninsula is currently divided among several governorates, or provinces, of Egyptian administration. The southern portion of the Sinai is called Ganub Sina in Arabic, literally "South of Sinai"; the northern portion is named Shamal Sina', or "North of Sinai". The other three governates converge on the Suez Canal, including el-Sewais, literally "the Suez"; on its southern end and crosses into Egypt-proper. In the center is el-Isma'ileyyah, and Port Said lies in the north with its capital at Port Said.
Approximately 66,500 people live in Ganub Sina and 314,000 live in Shamal Sina'. Port Said itself has a population of roughly 500 000 people. Portions of the populations of el-Isma'ileyyah and el-Suweis live in Sinai, while the rest live on the western side of the Suez Canal in Egypt-proper. The combined population of these two governorates is roughly 1.3 million (only a part of that population live in the Sinai, while the rest live on the western side of the Suez Canal).
Over the past 30 years the Sinai has become a tourist destination due to its spectacular natural beauty, rich coral reefs, biblical history, and proximity to Israel. Large numbers of Egyptians from the Nile Valley and Delta have moved to the area to work in tourism, while at the same time development has robbed native Bedouin of their grazing land and fishing grounds. This clash of cultures has resulted in the Sinai becoming the site of several terrorist attacks targeting not only Westerners and Israelis, but also Egyptians on holiday and working in tourism.