Egypt to impose 'full control' over Sinai, says president

Egypt to impose 'full control' over Sinai, says president


The Guardian

6 August 2012


Egypt will impose full control over the Sinai, its new president has pledged, as the Israeli government warned of a deteriorating security situation after gunmen killed around 15 Egyptian border guards and hijacked armoured vehicles to launch an attack across the border in Israel.

Mohamed Morsi said: "Those who carried out this crime will pay dearly." In a speech on Egyptian state television, he added: "Clear orders have been given to our armed forces and police to chase and arrest those who carried out this assault on our children. The forces will impose full control over these areas of Sinai."

The president convened an emergency meeting with military and security leaders in the aftermath of the assault, which he described as a "serious challenge to the Egyptian sovereignty".

Following the attack, which was launched just after sunset on Sunday, the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, said it had "again raise[d] the need for determined Egyptian action to enforce security and prevent terror in the Sinai".

He said Israel had contacted the Egyptian authorities to offer help. "We hope this will be a fitting wake-up call for the Egyptians to take things in hand on their side more forcefully," he told the Israeli parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee on Monday.

Israel has become increasingly concerned about a security vacuum in the Sinai in the 18 months since Hosni Mubarak, the former president and staunch ally of Israel, was deposed in the Egyptian revolution.

There have been a number of attacks and attempted attacks on Israel from across the border.

Israel says some militant groups in Gaza have joined forces with Islamists operating in the Sinai. It describes the Sinai militants as "global jihadists" or connected to al-Qaida.

Since the revolution, Israel has permitted the Egyptian government to station more troops in the Sinai than is provided for under the 1979 peace treaty to increase security. Israel is prohibited from launching military operations in the Sinai, and such action would risk a major diplomatic crisis.

Border map of Egypt, Gaza Strip and Israel

The assault began at around 8pm, as security personnel at a checkpoint in the Egyptian town of Rafah, where the borders of Egypt, Israel and Gaza converge, were breaking the Ramadan fast. According to a spokesman for the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), eight armed men launched an attack, killing around 15 men and injuring another seven.

The militants commandeered two armoured vehicles, which they drove towards the Israeli border. One vehicle exploded on the Egyptian side of the border, and the other broke through the security fence near the Kerem Shalom border crossing and was targeted by Israeli air force planes.

The Israeli government spokesman Ofir Gendelman said seven militants had been killed, four on the Israeli side and three in Egypt.

The Israeli military instructed Israeli civilians to stay inside their homes while combing the area for other militants who might still be on the Israeli side of the border.

Officials say Egypt has deployed at least two helicopter gunships to the Sinai in the hunt for the militants behind the checkpoint attack.

Security and military officials said on Monday that more aircraft were expected to arrive in the town of El-Arish before a military campaign against the militants in the area.

Egypt and Israel blamed the attack on Islamist militants from both Gaza and the Sinai.

Hamas, the Islamist organisation which rules Gaza, issued a statement condemning the attack. It has made efforts to contain militant activity since the end of its war with Israel three and a half years ago.

"Hamas condemns this ugly crime which killed a number of Egyptian soldiers and extends its deep condolences to the families of the victims and to the leadership and the people of Egypt," it said.

Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committee, both of which have frequently launched rockets into southern Israel, also condemned the attack.

Israeli intelligence services said they had information about an impending infiltration and sent aircraft to strike at the second car the militants had seized from the Egyptian forces. "We were prepared for it, so there was a hit," said the Israeli military spokesman Brig-Gen Yoav Mordechai. The military "averted a major attack on southern Israel", he said.

The Egyptian authorities closed the Rafah crossing to Gaza following the attack.

Earlier on Sunday, a militant in Gaza was killed and another injured in an Israeli air strike on a motorcycle travelling near the Egyptian border. The IDF said in a statement that it had targeted a "global jihad-affiliated terrorist squad in the southern Gaza Strip" which was responsible for an attack on the Israel-Egypt border in June in which an Israeli civilian was killed. Another attack was being planned, the IDF said.

However, the two incidents were not connected, according to an IDF spokesman.