Israel approves Egypt's request to increase forces in Sinai

Egyptian army to add two additional battalions to deal with militants following rise in violence in the peninsula.

July 15, 2013 22:25
2 minute read.
Trucks carrying Egyptian army tanks arriving in Rafah city [file].

Egyptian army tanks en route to Rafah 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)


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Israel has approved a request by the Egyptian army to increase its forces in Sinai, following a rise in violence in the peninsula in recent weeks.

As a part of the 1979 peace treaty signed by the two countries, each country must approve any additional military forces in the area on either side of the border.

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Egypt will send two additional battalions to the area - one in Rafah to help thwart smuggling and to defend El-Arish, that has been repeatedly hit with terrorist attacks recently, and another battalion in the center of the peninsula.

Thirteen people have now been killed across the province by Islamist militants in the violence that followed the ouster of Mohamed Morsi on July 3.

Targets this month, in addition to Egyptian security posts near the Suez Canal and the Gaza frontier, have included: a Christian priest, shot dead in the Mediterranean port of El Arish; a gas pipeline to Jordan; and the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat, where remains of a rocket were found.

On Sunday evening, the IDF declared a state of alert in areas near the Israel-Egypt border, and residents were told to stay in their homes as tensions have increased because of the fighting on the Egyptian side, according to Israel Radio. No casualties have been reported on the Israeli side of the border.

The Egyptian State Information Service reported on Sunday that the army has killed 37 terrorists and wounded 42 so far in their security operation in the Sinai.

Unidentified gunmen attacked four army and police checkpoints in Rafah and Arish while gunmen fired at an army checkpoint in front of the Rafah municipal council using RPG launchers and attacked Sukkar, Al-Mahager, and Al Matar checkpoints on Al- Arish ring road.


Two soldiers were injured in these attacks, according to the report.

Security sources said that the army exchanged fire with gunmen and that apache helicopters chased the fleeing gunmen into neighboring fields.

The desert peninsula has long been a security headache for Egypt and its neighbors. Large and empty, it borders Israel and the Gaza Strip and flanks the Suez Canal linking Asia to Europe. It is also home to nomad clans disaffected with rule from Cairo.

By adding to anger and seeming to confirm low expectations of democracy among Islamist militants who viewed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood as too moderate, the president's removal by the army has brought new violence to Sinai. It may presage more, if the fiery rhetoric of various hardline groups is any guide.

Despite banner headlines in a state-run newspaper this weekend declaring a new assault on Sinai militants in the coming days, army sources are playing down the possibility of a major operation in the near term. Resources are already stretched.

The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief journalists on the sensitive issue, said troops in Sinai were already on heightened alert.

If the army were to want to be more assertive, it might need to re-equip. The Abrams tanks and F-16 fighter jets it buys with $1.3 billion in annual US military aid are not ideal for fighting small groups of international jihadist militants and their local Bedouin allies in remote, rugged terrain.

Ariel Ben Solomon contribute to this report.

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