Egypt air strikes kill 35 insurgents in first offensive since 1973

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CAIRO — Egypt has staged its first military offensive near Israel
since their war in 1973.

Egyptian air, armor and infantry forces attacked suspected Palestinian and Al Qaida strongholds near the borders of Israel and the Gaza Strip. On Aug. 8, the Egyptian military deployed U.S.-origin F-16 multi-role fighters, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and M1A2 main battle tanks around the northeastern Sinai town of Sheikh Zuwaid.

“The forces were able to execute the plan successfully,” the Supreme
Council of the Armed Forces said. “The forces will continue the plan and calls on tribes and families of Sinai to cooperate in the restoration of security.”

Military sources said at least 35 insurgents were killed in air strikes
on Sheik Zweid, deemed a stronghold of Al Qaida and Palestinian militias. They said the Islamist fighters deployed surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank guided missiles, armored vehicles and automatic weapons fire.

“Terrorist elements fired rockets and shells and heavy machine guns at the aircraft combing the area, but did not hit the aircraft,” Egypt’s
official Middle East News Agency said. “Ground forces then dealt with them and killed a number of them.”

The offensive, called Operation Eagle, marked the first Egyptian
military strike near Israel since 1973. Under a 1979 peace treaty, much of
the Sinai Peninsula was demilitarized, with only border guards and light
weapons allowed near the eastern border with Israel.

The sources said the military was ordered to destroy the insurgency
presence in Sinai, particularly in the area between the Gaza Strip and the
Egyptian provincial capital of El Arish. They said about 2,000 fighters were
operating in that area, many of them from the Gaza Strip.

The planners of the Aug. 5 attack on the Egyptian-Israeli border, in
which 16 Egyptians soldiers, were killed came from Sheik Zweid and the
nearby village of Tumah, the sources said. They said Egyptian authorities
also began sealing some of the 1,200 tunnels that connected Egypt and Sinai.
The sources said the Second Infantry Division was deployed for the attack on

Bedouin fighters responded with attacks on several police and army
checkpoints around El Arish and Rafah. At least one Egyptian officer was
reported injured.

The sources said Egyptian intelligence has identified some of the
attackers and their affiliations. They cited the Army of Islam, an Al
Qaida-inspired militia in the Gaza Strip led by a former Hamas officer,
believed to have fired mortars during the Aug. 5 strike.

“At the time of the attack, elements in the Gaza Strip helped by firing
mortars in the area of Keren Shalom,” the Egyptian Army said.

On Aug. 8, Egypt’s official Al Ahram daily reported that the Second Army
was deployed in northern Sinai. Al Ahram said the army, backed by special
operations forces and helicopters, was ordered to search the Halal mountains
for those linked to the attack on the Egyptian-Israeli border.

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