Fifty-eight killed in Egyptian Sinai offensive


Egypt’s military and police forces killed 53 Islamist militants and arrested 680 suspects in a week-long offensive to crush insurgents in the Sinai Peninsula, a military spokesman said.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, seeking re-election in March, ordered the armed forces in November to defeat militants in three months after an attack on a mosque in Sinai killed more than 300.

The attack was the deadliest of its kind in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country and a major regional ally of the United States.

The security operation, involving the army, navy, air force and police, began last Friday and targeted “terrorist and criminal elements and organisations” in north and central Sinai, parts of the Nile delta and the western desert, Colonel Tamer al-Rifai told a news conference.

Rifai said forces destroyed over 1000 kg of explosives, 378 militant hideouts and weapon storage facilities including a media centre used by the militants.

He added 680 people, some suspected militants or wanted criminals, were also detained in the operation.

The air force, carried out more than 100 airstrikes in northern and central Sinai since the operation began, has focused on militant hideouts outside residential areas to avoid civilians, air force Brigadier General Alaa Dawara said.

Major General Yasser Abdel Aziz of the Military Operations Authority said the operation would end when Sinai was free of “terrorists”.
“It could be extended or shortened according to the situation and that will be determined in the coming days,” Abdel Aziz told journalists.

After the military operation, Egyptian authorities would push ahead with a comprehensive development plan for Sinai.

Outside the peninsula, the Egyptian military said the operation covers parts of the Nile Delta and the Western Desert, where other militants have waged attacks, some believed to be staged out of neighbouring Libya.

The insurgency poses the greatest challenge to government in a country that is both the most populous in the Arab World and a major regional ally of the United States.

Islamist insurgents have targeted security forces since 2013 when the army led by Sisi, then army chief, ousted President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, following mass protests against his rule.

Islamic State, in its weekly newspaper, called for attacks inside Egypt to show the campaign was a failure.
“Any attack inside Egypt is bound to show … Sisi’s allies he is unable to control security in areas under his control,” a commentary article said.

Some local residents raised concerns over food and medicine shortages in the peninsula after the army blocked all access to the area.

Rifai said the armed forces co-operated with local authorities to co-ordinate delivery of food, medical assistance and other supplies in compliance with local and international laws and human rights norms.