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Renewed clashes in Sinai as military sends reinforcements

Instability continues to grip the Sinai Peninsula in the worst violence the region has seen in decades. Clashes have erupted again as the Egyptian military sends reinforcements to root out suspected Islamist militants.

Egyptian state television reported that police and gunmen clashed again in northern Sinai on Thursday, just two days after the country's military launched an offensive against Islamist militants in the region, which shares a border with Israel.

Nile News television said that the clashes occurred "in front of police station number two" in El-Arish, the capital of North Sinai province. On Wednesday, the Egyptian military launched airstrikes against targets in Sinai, part of a campaign against suspected Islamist militants who have repeatedly ambushed state security forces.

"Elements from the armed forces and interior ministry supported by the air force began a plan to restore security by pursuing and targeting armed terrorist elements in Sinai, and it has accomplished this task with complete success," the military said in a release on Wednesday.

Apache helicopters attacked targets near Toumah while soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division stormed the village. Airstrikes, apparently from Egyptian jets, were also reported in the town of Sheikh Zuwaid. At least 20 suspected militants were killed in Wednesday's operation.

The German news agency dpa reported that Cairo sent reinforcements to the Sinai Peninsula on Thursday, as operations to restore stability in the region continued.

Worst violence in decades

Violence broke out in Sinai on Sunday, when gunmen attacked Egyptian security checkpoints, killing 16 members of the security services. The gunmen stole two vehicles and breached the Israeli border, provoking an airstrike by the Jewish state. It is the worst fighting in Sinai in decades.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi sacked several members of the intelligence service and military in apparent response to the Sinai violence and its fallout. Intelligence chief Murad Muwafi, military police chief Major General Hamdi Badeen and North Sinai Governor Abdel Wahab Mabruk all lost their jobs.

Cairo has blamed the recent violence in Sinai on Islamist militants, many of them allegedly Bedouins with connections to the Palestinian territory of the Gaza Strip. Militants in the region have attacked oil pipelines there several times since the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

Morsi has closed the Rafah border crossing with Gaza indefinitely and vowed to root out the militants in the region.

slk/tj (AFP, Reuters, dpa)