Egypt steps up campaign in Sinai after border guards killed
Egypt is preparing to use aircraft and tanks in the Sinai region for the first time since the 1973 war with Israel as it steps up its offensive against militants in the border area, security sources have said.
The plans were being finalised by Egypt’s new defence minister, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as he made his first visit to Sinai yesterday following the killing of 16 border guards on 5 August. Egypt blamed the attack on Islamist militants.
The conflict is an early test for president Mohamed Morsi to prove he can rein in militants on the border with Israel.
A security source said: “Al-Sisi will supervise the putting together of final plans to strike terrorist elements using aircraft and mobile rocket-launchers for the first time since the beginning of the operation.”
Another source said the army was planning to attack and besiege al-Halal mountain in central Sinai, where militants were suspected to be hiding.
Disorder has spread in North Sinai, a region that has felt neglected by the central government since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising.
Mubarak’s government had worked closely with Israel to keep the region under control and Islamist president Mr Morsi has promised to restore stability.
The 1979 peace treaty between the countries limited military presence in the desert peninsula, though in recent years Israel agreed to allow Egypt to deploy forces there to stem weapons smuggling by Palestinians.
After this month’s attack, Egypt launched a joint army-police operation that has raided militant hideouts, arrested their members and seized weapons.
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