Egypt has arrested several militants in Sinai as government troops traded fire with gunmen at a checkpoint. Israel has expressed its support for Cairo's military offensive, the largest of its kind in decades.
Gunmen have launched another attack on a security checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula, while Egypt massed troops on Friday as part of the largest military operation in the desert region since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
The unknown gunmen fired on a checkpoint in the capital of North Sinai Province, El-Arish, from surrounding mountains late Thursday, according to the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper. Military and police returned fire, but no casualties have been reported.
State news agency MENA reported on Friday that the military had also detained six militants during a sweep in Sinai. An unnamed security source told the news agency AFP that the six had connections to a jihadist group.
Egypt began its military buildup in Sinai on Thursday, a day after it killed 20 suspected militants in a series of airstrikes. Israel has reportedly given Egypt the green light to launch a military offensive in the region.
Under Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel, restrictions were placed on military deployments in Sinai, which borders the Jewish State. But Israel has expressed growing concern that Islamist militants are exploiting lawlessness to turn the region into a base of operations.
The Sinai Peninsula has suffered from a power vacuum as Egypt undergoes a messy political transition in the aftermath of former president Hosni Mubarak's 2011 ouster. Last Sunday, gunmen killed 16 Egyptian border guards and breached the Israeli border, precipitating the current round of violence.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak praised Egypt's offensive, saying that Cairo has acted "to an extent and with a determination that I cannot previously recall."
"Whether this ends with (their) regained control of Sinai and allows us not to worry as much as we have in the past few months, this I do not know," Barak told Israel Radio.
Sinai tribal negotiations
The Egyptian government also reached out to local tribes in Sinai as part of its campaign to restore stability there. Egypt's interior minister, Ahmed Gamal al-Din, met with Bedouin leaders late on Thursday to discuss security near the border with the Gaza Strip.
Although Cairo has closed the main Rafah border crossing in the aftermath of Sunday's attack, smuggling tunnels allow suspected militants to travel between the Gaza - controlled by the Islamist Hamas - and Sinai.
"There was a consensus among the tribes to destroy the tunnels," said Eid Abu Marzuka, a Bedouin who took part in the meeting. "Let Hamas be upset, we don't care. Egypt should deal with the Palestinians through the Rafah border crossing."
"We are against smuggling, and against the siege," Marzuka said, referring to the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
slk/jf (AFP, dpa, Reuters)