- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2005

TABA, Egypt — Nearly five months after two car bombs ripped through the lobby of the Taba Hilton, killing 29, the hotel has partially reopened to a steady, if weak, stream of Israelis, hotel officials said.

Although renovations on the hotel’s main building aren’t scheduled for completion for another half-year, the Hilton’s casino opened last month and is attracting hundreds of tourists across the border.

“We have a lot of Israelis who are coming through,” said hotel manager Mustafa Ragab. “Because of the casino, we have 250 to 300 people crossing.”

Located just inside the border with Israel, the high-rise hotel remains covered in scaffolding and surrounded by construction cranes.

But an 80-room annex began receiving guests in January. As many as 15 of those rooms are rented out to Israelis, the manager said.

The Oct. 7 explosion destroyed nearly two dozen rooms in the hotel. At a beach camp resort farther south down the Sinai coast, five other Egyptians were killed.

Egyptian police have teamed up with local Bedouins to launch a manhunt through the rugged Sinai mountains and deserts in search of bombing suspects. Three suspects were killed in shootouts last month.

The bombing scared off most of the Israeli tourists, who account for nearly two-thirds of the guests at the Hilton. Hotel employees are hoping more Israelis will return after the cease-fire declaration in Israeli-Palestinian fighting at a Middle East summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik last month.

“We’re waiting for tourists,” said Abdel, a Hilton employee who gave only his first name. “They will come back. They like the place. They feel they are home.”

Constructed during Israel’s occupation of the Sinai Peninsula and handed over to the Egyptians after the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries, the Taba Hilton offers a familiar atmosphere to Israelis on vacation and many staffers speak fluent Hebrew.

Abdel, who is responsible for escorting tour groups from the border to the hotel, said some Israelis come to the hotel several times a month and that he has made friends with many such guests.

Itzik Hai, the Israeli official who oversees the Taba crossing, confirmed that traffic has increased in recent months. The reopening of the casino boosted the numbers further, but only the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover will provide the best indication of the mood of Israelis, he said.

“Slowly, slowly it’s recovering. At first it was the bohemians, then it was parents with one child. Now that they’ve opened the casino and more Israelis are returning,” he said.

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