Egypt launched air strikes in the Sinai region close to the border with Israel on Wednesday, killing more than 20 suspected Islamic militants, the state-run Ahram news website reported yesterday. The air strikes on positions in the town of Sheikh Zouaid follows the deaths of 16 Egyptian border-guards last Sunday.
The incident marks the first time the Egyptian Air Force has been called into action in Sinai since 1973. The strikes follow clashes between armed men and security forces at several security checkpoints in the Sinai region. Armed men opened fire on several checkpoints in El Arish and in the nearby town of Rafah on the border with Israel, according to Reuters.
Lawlessness in the Peninsula bordering Israel is not new, but increased in scope and severity since the overthrow of Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak in an uprising 18 months ago.
In reaction to Sunday’s attacks, Egypt has also begun sealing off smuggling tunnels into the Gaza Strip, one security source said speaking to Reuters. The reporter in Rafah said heavy equipment was brought to the Egyptian side of the tunnels, which are used to smuggle people to and from Gaza as well as weapons, food and fuel for the strip.
In related news, the Egyptian General Intelligence Service reported that, according to information in the agency’s possession, the attack in which 16 Egyptian border guards were killed was carried out by rebel groups from Gaza and Sinai.
Murad Muwafi, head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, also stated yesterday that his agency received prior warnings concerning a possible terrorist strike prior to the attack on Sunday night. However, the warnings from Israel of the deadly border attack were ignored because authorities couldn’t fathom that Muslims would kill each other during the Ramadan fast, the Turkish Anadolu news agency reported.