'Egypt preparing operation against al-Qaida cells in Sinai'

Senior Egyptian military officials tell CNN that mission planned against terrorists in area of pipeline blasts, smuggling near Gaza border.

Egypt Pipeline Explosion 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Egypt Pipeline Explosion 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Egypt is preparing a military operation to root out al- Qaida cells that have been established in the past several months in the Sinai peninsula, CNN reported on Friday.
Senior Egyptian officials told CNN that they were focusing their operation in the coastal area between El- Arish and Rafah on the border with the Gaza Strip.
RELATED:Opinion: Egypt-Sinai-Gaza: The triangular threat to IsraelEgypt recruits Sinai Beduin to protect natural gas pipeline
“Al-Qaida is present in Sinai mainly in the area of Sakaska close to Rafah,” a general in Egypt’s intelligence services was quoted as saying on Thursday. “They have been training there for months, but we have not identified their nationalities yet.”
“We plan to clean out those criminal pockets around the area of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid,” said Gaber al-Araby, secretary-general for the North Sinai governorate.
The pipeline that transports natural gas to Israel has been sabotaged five times this year.
Egyptian security sources told the state-run Al-Ahram daily last month that the pipeline blasts – and attacks on security forces in northern Sinai that killed five officers last month – were the work of al-Qaida-inspired groups.
A Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) report released in May warned that lawlessness in Sinai following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in February had created a situation in which smugglers of arms into the Gaza Strip were operating almost freely.
“Today the Egyptian regime’s attention is focused on stabilizing the new government, and this eases the Sinai smugglers’ task,” the report said.
The Beduin of the Sinai, for whom smuggling is a major source of income, were mostly involved in getting weapons into Gaza to supply Hamas and other smaller terrorist groups, it said.
The report also said that Iran, in seeking to strengthen its influence in the region, was supplying Hamas and Islamic Jihad with “choice military-grade weaponry.”