Militants blamed for border post attack in Egypt
Egypt’s military yesterday vowed to hunt down those behind the killing of 16 soldiers at a checkpoint along the Sinai border with Israel, calling the attackers “enemies of the nation” and suggesting they were Egyptian Sinai-based militants who received Palestinian support from the Gaza Strip.
The incident – which saw the attackers try to break through the border after killing the soldiers – could increase tensions with Israel, which has pressed Egypt to clamp down on the lawless border region.
The military statement said: “The armed forces have been careful in the past months and during the events of the (2011 Egyptian) revolution not to shed Egyptian blood … but the group that staged yesterday’s attack is considered by the armed forces as enemies of the nation who must be dealt with by force.”
The attack, on Sunday night, and the army’s promised crackdown, add to the host of political, economic and security crises facing president Mohammed Morsi and could mark an escalation in the region’s decade-long low-level Islamist insurgency.
Israel says its aircraft killed between six and eight militants, but a statement by the Egyptian armed forces said 35 militants took part in the attack, suggesting that close to 30 attackers may be on the run.
Security and military officials said at least two helicopter gunships arrived in the border town of El-Arish yesterday to join the hunt for the militants. Meanwhile, Israel stepped up pressure on Egypt to clamp down on the lawless border region.
In the first direct indication that the attackers may have had the help of Palestinian militants, the Egyptian statement said “elements from the Gaza Strip” aided the attackers by shelling the Egyptian-Israeli border crossing of Karam Abu Salem with mortars as the attack was taking place.
The Sinai region has seen a surge of violence since Hosni Mubarak was overthrown last year, but Sunday’s attack was the worst in several years. Suspected Islamists attacked the checkpoint in the border town of Rafah at sunset, killing the soldiers as they sat down for the traditional meal breaking the Ramadan fast.
The attackers then commandeered two of their vehicles and burst through a security fence into Israel, according to Israeli officials. They said the incursion was quickly spotted and hit with an airstrike.
The unrest in Sinai poses a daunting challenge to Mr Morsi, who since coming to office a little more than a month ago has warmed to Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Hamas officials have condemned the killings, but Mr Morsi may still come under pressure to back down from plans to end Egypt’s co-operation with the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
He vowed on Sunday to make the killers pay for their crime and to restore security to Sinai, home to several of the most popular Red Sea resorts in Egypt. Yesterday he declared three days of mourning for the victims, according to state television.
The Sinai border has been largely quiet for most of the three decades since Israel and Egypt signed a peace agreement, although security forces have for years taken part a low-level insurgency in El-Arish and nearby areas. The 1979 treaty restricts the number of troops and the type of weapons Egypt can deploy in the peninsula.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 3 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: West