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Egyptian military launches major counterterror operation in North Sinai

The Egyptian military has launched a large-scale operation aimed at eliminating terrorist groups in the Nile Delta and the restive North Sinai area.

Military spokesperson Colonel Tamer El-Rafei announced the “Comprehensive Operation Sinai 2018.” offensive on Friday, reading a communique on state television.

“In accordance with the delegation issued by the president of the republic, the supreme commander of the Egyptian armed forces, to the general command of the Egyptian armed forces and the interior ministry to comprehensively confront terrorism as well other criminal activities in close cooperation with all state institutions, law enforcement troops started to implement the plan of comprehensive confrontation of terrorist and criminal elements and organizations in north and middle Sinai and other areas in the Nile Delta and the desert areas west of the Nile valley,” Rafei was quoted as saying by Ahram.

The operation will include training exercises and other missions “with the aim of tightening control of the borders,” he added.

Military and police forces are expected to increase their presence throughout other areas of the country, and hospitals have already been put on alert.

Following the announcement, the air force carried out a number of strikes on “terrorist outposts” in North and Central Sinai.

In November, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi ordered the military to secure Sinai within three months after an attack on a mosque near al-Arish killed more than 300 people.

North Sinai has long been a hotbed of militant activity, and Egypt has responded by imposing curfews and establishing buffer zones in the area bordering Israel. Members of the jihadist group Ansar Bait al-Maqdis pledged allegience to Islamic State in 2014, becoming Wilayat Sinai (the “Sinai Province”) and pushing the government to step up its military presence in the region.

The ISIS affiliate has claimed responsibility for around 800 of the 1,700 attacks carried out in Sinai since the military removed Sisi’s predecessor, Mohamed Morsi from power in 2013.

North Sinai is currently under a state of emergency, and a curfew was imposed in parts of the governorate last month, including areas near the Rafah border crossing.

Egypt has relied on other countries to support its efforts in the Sinai Peninsula, including Russia. In November, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev approved a draft agreement between the two countries on the mutual use of airspace and airfields.

On February 3, The New York Times reported that Sisi has for years allowed Israeli forces to conduct airstrikes against terrorist groups in North Sinai, which borders Israel and the Gaza Strip.

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