Egypt launches air raids against Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula, near the border with Israel, for the first time in decades. The military says it deployed Apache helicopter gunships in strikes in which 20 militants were killed in Sinai, in retaliation for a weekend ambush that cost the lives of 16 soldiers
Egyptian security forces stand by their armored personnel carriers ahead of a military operation in the northern Sinai Peninsula in which 20 Islamist militants have reportedly been killed. AFP PHOTO
Following the recent attacks in Sinai, Egypt yesterday launched an army operation near its border with Israel, one of the largest since it signed a peace treaty with that country in 1979. Egyptian rockets have not been fired in the area since Egypt’s 1973 war with Israel.
Egypt’s military said in a statement yesterday that its “plan to restore security by pursuing and targeting armed terrorist elements in Sinai” has been accomplished “with complete success.” The military will “continue implementing this plan,” added the statement. A senior military official in Sinai, speaking on condition of anonymity, said “20 terrorists were killed” in Apache helicopter air strikes and when soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division stormed Tumah, Agence France-Presse reported. “The operation is continuing,” he said.
Other security officials in the north of the peninsula reported air strikes near the town of Sheikh Zuwayid. The militant strongholds are in northern Sinai, away from the Red Sea resorts further south that are popular with foreign tourists and a lifeline for Egypt’s struggling economy.Conflicting reports
But the official MENA news agency gave a conflicting account of how the militants were killed. “Terrorist elements fired rockets and shells and heavy machine guns... at the aircraft combing the area, but did not hit the aircraft, and ground forces then dealt with them and killed a number of them,” the agency reported.
Overnight, unknown assailants attacked four security checkpoints near the town of Al-Arish, security officials said. The air strikes came a day after the military held a funeral for the 16 soldiers who died in Aug. 5’s attack by militants, amid widespread calls for vengeance.
Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi did not attend the funeral, where some protesters chanted slogans against the Brotherhood and, witnesses said, tried to assault the Prime Minister Hisham Qandil. Morsi’s spokesman said in a statement that the president did not attend because the security measures needed to guard the president would have impinged on the “popular character” of the ceremony. The military response focused immediately on Shaikh Zuwaid, a town that has come under
the control of Bedouin tribesmen as the authorities lost their hold over swathes of northern Sinai following the overthrow last year of President Hosni Mubarak, Reuters reported.
US pledges support
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her condolences in a telephone conversation with Qandil. She voiced support for the Egyptian government’s efforts to strengthen security.