Egypt says clashes kill 7 troops, 59 militants in Sinai

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt said Tuesday at least seven troops, including an officer, have been killed in clashes with militants in recent operations in restive northern Sinai Peninsula, where its security forces have been battling a long-running insurgency led by a local affiliate of the Islamic State group.

The military said in a statement that forces have killed at least 59 suspected militants and arrested another 142 suspected militants and criminals.

It says airstrikes destroyed 56 vehicles containing weapons and ammunition in the Western Desert, south and northeastern border areas. Forces also destroyed six smuggling tunnels leading into the Gaza Strip, the statement said.

It said border guards across the country arrested at least 2,189 illegal migrants from different countries. The statement did not elaborate.

The military statement gave no timeframe for these recent operations. It wasn’t possible to independently confirm any details as access to northern Sinai is heavily restricted.

The statement came less than a week after Islamic militants kidnapped a Christian man traveling in a communal taxi in north of Sinai Peninsula.

The man, who is a police forensic expert, is still held by militants.

The attack, which took place about 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of el-Arish, northern Sinai’s largest city, raises the specter of renewed attacks on minority Christians in the region after a two-year lull.

Since 2016, IS militants have killed more than 100 Christians in attacks targeting churches and buses carrying pilgrims to remote desert monasteries.

Also on Tuesday, Egyptian officials said security forces killed five suspected militants armed with assault rifles in a firefight that began during a dawn raid on their hideout just north of Cairo.

A statement by the Interior Ministry, which oversees police forces, said the five militants belonged to “Hasm,” which it says is an armed faction of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group removed from power in 2013. It said the militants were preparing for attacks on government facilities and army and police personnel.

The ministry statement said forces seized explosives, weapons and ammunition during the raid, which took place in the town of Obour in Qalyubia province but did not say when.

Egypt has been battling Islamic militants for years, but the insurgency gathered steam and grew deadlier after the 2013 ouster of an elected but divisive Islamist president by President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi, then minister of defense.

The country’s security forces launched an all-out offensive against militants in February last year, deploying tens of thousands of troops and police backed by fighter-jets, helicopter gunships, navy vessels and tanks in Sinai and in the Western Desert, along the border with Libya.

The operation has significantly reduced the number of attacks and restored a semblance of normalcy in el-Arish, on the Mediterranean coast.

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