JERUSALEM – Israelis consider Taba (search), just across the Egyptian border with Israel, part of their own back yard — partly because Israel controlled the tiny enclave for 22 years, and Israelis built the hotel that was wrecked by an explosion late Thursday.
Israel captured the Sinai Desert (search) from Egypt in the 1967 Mideast war and returned it in 1982 under terms of a peace treaty — except for Taba, a tiny parcel of land on the Red Sea (search) shore next to Eilat.
Israel claimed the international border placed Taba inside Israel, but international arbitrators ruled against the claim, and Israel returned Taba, along with the $41 million hotel, to Egypt in March 1989.
Though a border separated Israeli Eilat from Egyptian Taba, thousands of Israelis regularly streamed across to visit Taba and place bets in the casino at the Hilton hotel.
A month ago, Israeli officials issued a warning of possible terror attacks against Israeli tourists in Sinai and recommended that Israelis stay away, but Israel's Foreign Ministry said early Friday that between 12,000 and 15,000 Israelis were in the Sinai Desert as of Thursday.
Up to Thursday, there had been no serious attacks against Israeli tourists in Taba. However, in 1985, an Egyptian policeman went berserk and opened fire on Israelis in Ras Burka in the Sinai, killing seven.
But three explosions shook popular resorts, including the Taba Hilton, in Sinai Thursday night as many Israelis vacationed at the close of a Jewish holiday. On the shore of the Gulf of Aqaba, the hotel gives visitors a view of Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.