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SLUG: 2-326131 Egypt/Bombings/Sharm (L)








HEADLINE: Terrorist Strike Hits At the Heart of Egypt's Tourist Industry

INTRO: The bomb attacks early Saturday in Egypt hit the popular tourist resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. VOA's Sonja Pace has visited the resort numerous times over the past 13 years, and has this description of the resort, which draws tourists from many corners of the world and has also been host to important Middle East peace efforts.

TEXT: Egyptians proudly call it the Red Sea Riviera - the stretch of coast running along the eastern side of the Sinai Peninsula. The coast is dotted with tourist resorts and Sharm el-Sheikh is its crowning glory.

The once sleepy village has blossomed into Egypt's best known beach tourist resort over the past decade, with luxury hotels, shopping malls, restaurants, cafes, dive shops and even a golf course.

Namaa Bay, which was the focal point of the Saturday morning bombings is at the center of Sharm.

Even in the early morning hours, it would not have been unusual for tourists and locals alike to be sitting in cafes, or walking along the boardwalk by the sea.

Tourists come for the sun, the water and what lies beneath it - fabulous coral reefs that make this area one of the best diving and snorkeling sites in the world.

They come mainly from Europe and Russia, with charter flights directly into Sharm's airport. Depending on the time of year and holiday season, the visitors also come from other Arab countries, as well as from Egypt and, at times, from neighboring Israel.

But, Sharm also provides thousands of jobs for Egyptians, who come here from Cairo, Alexandria and other cities.

President Hosni Mubarak is a frequent resident at this seaside resort, and has hosted numerous Middle East peace conferences and summits in Sharm - most recently in early February -- bringing together Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Tourism is vital to Egypt's economy, and the Red Sea resorts and Sharm el-Sheikh, in particular, are at the very center of the tourist industry.

Egypt is no stranger to terrorist attacks.

Islamic militants carried out numerous attacks at tourist sites, mainly in southern Egypt in the early 1990's.

Then, last October a bomb attack at the Taba Hilton - a beach resort on Egypt's border with Israel and at two beaches nearby killed 34 people. And, in April of this year suicide bombers struck in Cairo -- outside the Egyptian museum and at the city's famed Khan Khalili bazaar. (SIGNED)


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