Ten civilians were killed overnight during fighting between the army and Islamist militants near Egypt’s border with Gaza, where the military has launched a crackdown in recent weeks, security and medical sources said on Wednesday.
At least three of the casualties were children and three were women, the medical sources said. The victims were killed in their home by two mortar shells fired by militants during a night-time curfew, security sources said.
The sources said earlier it was possible the victims had been killed in mistaken army air strikes on militants in the area, but later ruled that out. The army spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
Amid the curfew – imposed on swathes of northern Sinai after militant attacks on Oct. 24 killed 33 security personnel – local residents, medical crews and other sources had limited information about the incident.
Egypt is creating a one kilometre-deep buffer strip along the border with Gaza by clearing houses and trees and destroying subterranean tunnels it says are used to smuggle arms from the Palestinian enclave to militants in Sinai.
Residents of Sinai, who complain they have long been neglected by the state, say many rely on smuggling goods through the tunnels for their livelihoods and the creation of the buffer zone has stoked resentment.
Militant violence in Sinai, a remote but strategic region bordering Israel, Gaza and the Suez Canal, has surged since the army ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July 2013 and cracked down on his Muslim Brotherhood, jailing thousands of members and labelling it a terrorist organisation.
The Brotherhood maintains it is peaceful and condemned last month’s attacks.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a militant group that has sworn allegiance to Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, has stepped up attacks on police and soldiers in Sinai and released a video this month purporting to show it was behind the Oct. 24 attack.