The Egyptian military has launched airstrikes against targets in the Sinai Peninsula near the Israeli border. The airstrikes come after fresh overnight attacks on at least one Egyptian security checkpoint.
Egyptian warplanes bombed targets in the Sinai town of Sheikh Zuwaid on Wednesday, killing at least 20 suspected Islamist militants in retaliation for a series of deadly attacks on security checkpoints near the Israeli border.
The state-run Al-Ahram news website reported that witnesses in the area had spotted two military jets and heard the sounds of explosions. An Egyptian army commander in Sinai confirmed to the Reuters news agency that a military offensive was under way.
"We have succeeded in entering al-Toumah village, killed 20 terrorists and destroyed three armored cars belonging to terrorists. Operations are still ongoing," the commander, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters.
The airstrikes come after a fresh round of attacks on Egyptian security checkpoints near the Sinai capital of El-Arish. German news agency dpa reported that gunmen in four-wheel drive vehicles opened fire on at least three checkpoints with automatic weapons late on Tuesday, injuring one local resident. A Reuters reporter said a police officer was also wounded.
"Unknown armed men opened fire on a checkpoint on the main road between El-Arish and Rafah," Egypt's state-run Middle East News Agency (MENA) said in a report also carried on Egyptian state television.
Al-Ahram reported that the clashes around the security checkpoints were ongoing. According to dpa, army and police forces have entered mountainous areas south of El-Arish to hunt down suspected militants.
Border tensions rising
The apparent military offensive comes after the Tuesday burial of 16 Egyptian border guards who were killed in an ambush by unidentified gunmen on Sunday. During the ambush, the gunmen seized two armored vehicles and breached Israel's border, leading to an Israeli airstrike. It was the worst attack of its kind in the Sinai Peninsula in decades.
The Egyptian government blamed Sunday's ambush on Palestinian Islamist militants, with President Mohammed Morsi vowing retaliation. Cairo indefinitely closed the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip in response. Gaza is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas.
There has been growing concern about security along the Egypt-Israeli border since the ouster of Egypt's former US-backed president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Lawlessness has been on the rise in the Sinai Peninsula, and MENA reports that one checkpoint has been targeted 28 times since the Egyptian revolution began.
President Morsi is a member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which is more supportive of the Palestinians and openly critical of Israel than the former Mubarak regime. Morsi has promised to respect all of Cairo's international agreements, which would include Egypt's historic peace treaty with the Jewish State.
But other members of the Muslim Brotherhood have called the treaty into question, raising concern that one of the Middle East's anchors of stability could be weakened.