Egyptian forces launch aerial attacks
Cairo (CNN) — Clashes intensified in Egypt’s North Sinai early Wednesday as Egyptian forces launched aerial strikes on militants in response to a series of attacks by masked gunmen on military checkpoints.
Egyptian Army Apache helicopters fired rockets at armed militants and there were numerous militant casualties, said Gen. Ahmed Bakr, head of North Sinai security.
It was unclear early Wednesday how many militants were killed but state-run Nile TV reported that at least 20 militants were killed in an aerial strikes in areas in the port town of El Arish.
These strikes came after masked gunmen launched six simultaneous attacks in North Sinai early Wednesday, wounding five security officers and a civilian.
The targets included five security checkpoints and a military cement factory, he said.
This violence comes just days after another attack in Sinai.
Egyptian soldiers shot dead at checkpoint
Sixteen Egyptian soldiers were killed and seven wounded Sunday when assailants with semiautomatic weapons and hand grenades stole two armored vehicles from Egyptian forces and tried to enter Israel.
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That attack took place near the Rafah border crossing, and prompted Egypt to move to block hundreds of smuggling tunnels into the Gaza Strip, according to Bakr.
The Egyptian government shut the Rafah border “indifinitely” following the attack.
“The engineers armed forces brigades arrived with heavy machinery, bulldozers, cranes that arrived on flat beds trucks and some equipment has been transported by planes. The operation’s objective is (to) block all tunnels used to smuggle illegal products and humans into Gaza. The actual work has not started yet, but they are in the planning process,” Bakr said Tuesday.
Israel blamed militants associated with the group Global Jihad for Sunday’s attack. Egyptian military officials called the assailants “enemies” of the nation, while the Muslim Brotherhood said the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad was behind the killings.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack on Sunday. Egypt had received the charred bodies of six assailants handed over from Israel and the bodies have been transferred to the Forensic Department in Cairo University in order to conduct DNA tests in an attempt to identify the perpetrators, according to State TV.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned during her visit to Egypt last month that the desert border between Israel and Egypt could become an “operational base” for jihadists if security is not maintained.
Israel has raised concerns about the region in the wake of the fall of Egypt’s long-ruling dictator, Hosni Mubarak.
In an interview with CNN, Clinton said the problem was discussed at length during her meetings in Egypt and Israel.
There is “the potential of jihadists and terrorists taking up an operational base in Sinai,” Clinton said in the interview. “We think this is a dangerous situation for both Egypt and Israel. It is also dangerous for Americans. We have Americans who are part of the multinational force that observes the continuation of the monitoring (of the) Camp David Accord. We have Americans in the Sinai. We’ve had a few concerns about their safety.”