The battle for the Sinai but this time Egypt fights its own people
Egypt is preparing to use aircraft and tanks in Sinai as part of its offensive against militants in the border area, security sources told Reuters on Monday, while the Israeli army announced it deployed an Iron Dome air defense system near the Egyptian border.
Egypt’s plans to step up the offensive will include using such military vehicles in Sinai for the first time since the 1973 war with Israel.
The plans were being finalized by Egypt’s newly appointed Defense Minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as he made his first visit to Sinai on Monday following the killing of 16 border guards on Aug. 5.
Egypt blamed the attack on Islamist militants and the conflict is an early test for President Mohamed Mursi - elected in June following the overthrow last year of Hosni Mubarak - to prove he can rein in militants on the border with Israel.
“Al-Sisi will supervise the putting together of final plans to strike terrorist elements using aircraft and mobile rocket launchers for the first time since the beginning of the operation,” an Egyptian security source said.
Another security source said the army was planning to attack and besiege al-Halal mountain in central Sinai, using weapons including tanks, where militants were suspected to be hiding.
Meanwhile, the Israeli military said on Monday it would deploy its Iron Dome air defense system, designed to intercept and destroy rockets, at the border.
The move came days after two rockets were fired at the town of Eilat near the border with Egypt, a military spokeswoman said.
“An Iron Dome battery has been deployed in the town of Eilat as part of tests, momentarily modifying the sites where these systems are deployed,” she said but did not give further details.
An Islamist militant group claimed responsibility for the two rocket attacks aimed at Eilat, Israel’s Red Sea resort town, SITE Intelligence Group reported on Thursday.
A group calling itself Ansar Jerusalem claimed to be responsible for firing “two Grad rockets into the city” which it said hit “inhabited targets”, in a statement posted on online jihadist forums, the U.S.-based monitoring agency said.
On Wednesday, evening, Israeli police said two blasts rocked the city.
Debris of the rockets which were apparently fired from Egypt’s Sinai peninsula was later found.
Disorder has spread in North Sinai, a region that has felt neglected by the central government, since the overthrow of Mubarak in a popular uprising. Mubarak’s government had worked closely with Israel to keep the region under control and Islamist President Mursi has promised to restore stability.
The 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt limited military presence in the desert peninsula though in recent years Israel agreed to allow Egypt to deploy more forces there to stem weapons smuggling by Palestinian gunmen and other crimes.
After the border attack this month, Egypt launched a joint army-police operation that has raided militant hideouts, arrested their members and seized weapons.
Israeli officials, who say they are in regular contact with Cairo, have encouraged Egypt to take tough action against the gunmen responsible for the assault and have previously allowed the use of helicopters in the operation.
No one has claimed responsibility for the killing of the border guards but a Sinai-based Islamist militant organization, the Salafi Jihadi Group, warned the Egyptian army last week that the crackdown would force it to fight back.
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