Egypt sends troops into north Sinai after attack
EGYPT deployed helicopter gunships and an antiterrorism team in north Sinai on Monday as President Mohamed Mursi ordered the military to take "complete control" of the region after unidentified militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers.
Mr Mursi, drawn from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, described the attack on the troops as they broke their Ramadan fast on Sunday as a "cowardly" act and vowed the assailants would "pay a high price, as would those who cooperate with them," the Middle East News Agency reported.
The attack on the border post near the Rafah crossing with the Gaza Strip comes a month after Mr Mursi was sworn in as Egypt’s first democratically elected civilian president. Security nationwide has deteriorated since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster last year, while Sinai has seen an increase in kidnappings of tourists and attacks on security forces that have alternately been blamed on al-Qaeda-affiliated militants and Bedouins.
Sinai has "become a kind of lawless no-man’s land, and it seems to be getting worse", Shadi Hamid, research director at Brookings Doha Centre, said. It is also "probably the one area where Egypt and Israel share some common ground. The Muslim Brotherhood and Israel have an interest in stabilising the Sinai."
Security forces and troops were moving into the region hours after Mr Mursi ordered them to hunt down the attackers. Several gunships were sent in to patrol the area, the criminal investigation head in north Sinai, Mohamed Saeed, said. This was to prevent other attackers from moving into the territory.
Egypt’s military council said the group that carried out the attack, "and those standing behind them, are regarded by the armed forces as enemies and must be met with force". The council said 35 people had carried out the attack.
At Cairo International Airport, authorities turned away Palestinians arriving by aircraft because the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip had been closed, the state-run Ahram Gate reported, citing security officials. The military said seven other soldiers were injured, including three critically, in the attack.
Mr Mursi’s election raised concerns in Israel, which enjoyed peace with Egypt under Mubarak.
The ousted president was seen as Israel’s greatest ally in the region, co-operating on security and the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Mr Mursi and the Brotherhood have repeatedly said that Egypt would honour its international agreements — a reference to the Camp David peace accords.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said the attackers had suicide-bomber vests and that, along with the amount of explosives brought in a small truck at the start of the incursion, "could have caused very serious damage".
"I appreciate that this will not be the last time we come across attempts to harm us," he said yesterday during a day-long tour of the border region. "I hope that this will be a wake-up call for Egypt regarding the necessity to be sharp and efficient on their side."
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said "we need to understand this war is continuing daily and it is clear today also to Egypt that it is an interest of Egypt to stop this".
Mr Lieberman said that a barrage of rockets fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip fell on southern Israel around the time of Sunday’s attacks.