Itongadol.- After the overthrow of Egypt \’s Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas appers to be the next target: An Egyptian military source told the London-based Arabic-language al-Hayat newspaper on Thursday morning that security forces had killed and arrested some 200 gunmen in the Sinai Peninsula.
He said 32 Hamas members were killed and 45 activists were detained. "Hamas is flaring up the situation in Sinai after (former Egyptian President) Mohamed Morsi\’s ouster," he explained.
"We have detected movements of Hamas activists cooperating with jihadists in Sinai. We killed and arrested some of them," the source said, admitting that the army was finding it difficult to gain control of the situation.
"They enter Sinai through the tunnels to carry out attacks, along with others, and then return to Gaza through the tunnels. They take advantage of the surface and hide in the mountains."
Stability in Sinai has been shaken since the 2011 revolution and has recently deteriorated once again. On Saturday, shortly after Morsi was toppled, dozens of radical terror activists affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood movement left the Gaza Strip and headed for Sinai in a bid to fight the Egyptian army. Since then, the terror activists have participated in violent clashes in El-Arish and have even attacked some Egyptian army posts.
The Egyptian military spokesman said Wednesday that gunmen in northern Sinai had tried to assassinate the commander of the Second Field Army, General Ahmed Wasfy, in the in Sheikh Zuwaid area. A girl passing by was killed in an exchange of fire between the gunmen and the convoy guarding the senior officer. Waspy told local media that he was not hurt.
Earlier this month, before the military coup, the Egyptian army moved forces in the Sinai area in coordination with Israel, in order to operate against terrorist cells in the area.
The British Times reported Thursday morning that the Egyptian army would ask Israel for approval to launch a large counterterrorist offensive against Islamic extremists in Sinai, suspending the peace treaty between the two countries. Coordination with Israel is needed as the peninsula is a demilitarized area according to the peace accord.
According to the report, jihadist groups have exploited the political crisis in Cairo by attacking Egyptian and Israeli targets in Sinai over recent days. As part of the Egyptian operation, thousands of troops will be sent into the region to crush the threat from terrorists, including al-Qaeda affiliates.
Fighting gunmen in Sinai is in the interest of both Israel and Egypt, especially in light of the increased attacks in the area. On Sunday, armed men launched a series of attacks on security checkpoints in the northern Sinai towns of Sheikh Zuweid and El-Arish close to the Egyptian border with Israel and the Gaza Strip, and one soldier was killed.
Last Saturday, gunmen shot dead a Coptic Christian priest in northern Sinai. The shooting in the coastal city was one of several attacks believed to be by Islamist insurgents that included firing at four military checkpoints in the region.
Saturday\’s attacks on checkpoints took place in al-Mahajer and al-Safaa in Rafah, as well as Sheikh Zuwaid and al-Kharouba. The violence followed attacks in which five police officers were killed in El-Arish.