x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Egypt air strikes kill at least 16 suspected militants in Sinai

The strikes — the military's first in the peninsula for decades — were carried out on the village of Tumah, as Israel welcomes Cairo's 'positive' operation.

CAIRO // Egypt's military killed at least 16 militants in a raid using helicopter gunships in Sinai today, a military official said, days after 16 soldiers were killed in an attack attributed to extremists.

The strikes — the military's first in the Sinai Peninsula for decades — were carried out on the village of Tumah as security forces massed near Rafah on the Gaza border for what they called a decisive confrontation with the militants.

A senior military official in Sinai, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said "20 terrorists were killed" in Apache helicopter air strikes and when soldiers with the 2nd Infantry Division stormed Tumah.

"The operation is continuing," he said. Other security officials in the north of the peninsula reported air strikes near the town of Sheikh Zuwayid, close to the village.

Israel hailed the operation as positive, with Amos Gilad, a top official in Israel's defence ministry, saying Cairo had grasped the nettle and begun to take action.

"The only one responsible for Sinai is Egypt, and Egypt will do everything in its power to deal with terror. Its success will prevent a bigger attack," he told Israeli radio.

"These extremist organisations can harm the entire Middle East, it is not just against Egypt.

"The penny has dropped in Egypt, their level of awareness has been heightened. They are moving to action."

Overnight, unknown assailants attacked four security checkpoints near the town of El Arish, the officials said, wounding a conscript.

The air strikes came a day after the military held a funeral for the 16 soldiers killed on Sunday's attack by militants amid widespread calls for vengeance.

The soldiers were killed when Islamist militants raided a border guard base under the cover of mortar fire, and commandeered a military vehicle into neighbouring Israel before they were stopped by an Israeli helicopter strike.

Security forces had raided homes on Tuesday in search of suspects in the attack, as they prepared to close tunnels to the Palestinian Gaza Strip used to smuggle weapons and militants as well as food and other supplies.

Israel had handed over to Egypt six "completely charred" bodies that were in the armoured personnel carrier that was driven into Israel before being destroyed, said a medical official in El-Arish.

The bodies have not yet been identified. But security officials blame Bedouin militants and Palestinian Islamists from Gaza for the attack.