Middle East

Sinai: Egypt sends reinforcements as offensive builds

Trucks carrying tanks in al-Arish
Image caption A heavy military presence is building up in al-Arish

Egypt has deployed extra troops, tanks and other armoured vehicles to the Sinai peninsula in an escalation of its military offensive in the area.

The reinforcements follow the killing of 16 border guards by suspected Islamist militants on Sunday.

The army has also begun sealing off tunnels into Gaza, according to Egypt's Mena news agency.

Earlier reports that fresh fighting had broken out in al-Arish have been denied by a source quoted by the agency.

According to Nile News TV, violent clashes had broken out between police and armed men outside a police station in the town.

But a security source told Mena the shots had been fired into the air by a man driving an unlicensed car.

Violence in the region began on Sunday, when militants carried out the deadliest and most brazen attack against Egyptian troops in the Sinai region for decades.

There were further attacks on checkpoints in al-Arish on Wednesday, which left a number of people wounded.

Egypt launched its military offensive hours later, launching missile strikes from helicopters.

According to military officials, 20 people were killed in the village of Touma, while the Sheikh Zuwaid area to the west was also hit.

Egypt's military presence in Sinai is limited and requires Israeli approval under the terms of the 1979 peace treaty which returned Sinai to Egyptian control.

Analysts say that the security situation in the area has deteriorated following the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year, and that Islamist extremists appear to have gained a foothold.

There are hundreds of illegal tunnels along the Egypt-Gaza border that are used for smuggling people and goods.

The militants who launched Sunday's attacks are believed to have used them as an escape route.

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