Egyptian tanks arriving in Sinai city of Rafah 370 (R).
(photo credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters)
EL-ARISH - An official for the Sinai international peacekeeping force denied that its troops had come under fire on Sunday, contradicting earlier statements of an Egyptian official who had said gunmen opened fire on the peacekeeping troops.
"We were not fired upon," said Kathleen Riley, Cairo representative of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) which has monitored movements of troops and military equipment along Egypt's border with Israel since their 1979 peace treaty.
"There was some firing on an Egyptian army checkpoint or police checkpoint not too far away. We were able to hear the shots but we had absolutely no attacks upon our staff."
The incident follows the start of an Egyptian operation targeting Islamist militants in Sinai suspected of killing 16 border guards a week ago.
The government in Cairo has sent armored vehicles and hundreds of troops in the biggest build-up in the treaty's demilitarized zone since Egypt's 1973 war with Israel.
Israel has called upon Egypt to crack down on growing lawlessness in the Sinai, which has become a hideout for jihadi groups opposed to Israel.
Israeli officials say they approve of the Egyptian military operation and the peacekeepers say they are continuing their work in coordination with the two sides.
In light of the increasing violence in Sinai,The New York Times
reported Saturday that the United States and Egypt were discussing a variety of options to confront security concerns.
According to the report, the Pentagon was mulling over a package of assistance, for sharing intelligence with Egypt's military and police in Sinai. Options include intercepts of cellphone or radio conversations of terrorists suspected of plotting attacks and overhead imagery provided by aircraft or satellites, the officials said, according to the Times.
"We continue to discuss ways of increasing and improving the Egyptians’ situational awareness in the Sinai,” the Times
quoted a Pentagon official as saying.