Middle East

Egypt troops step up campaign against Sinai militants

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Media captionBBC Arabic's Khaled Ezzelarab reports on the daily raids being conducted by security forces in Sinai

Egyptian security forces have killed 11 militants since launching an offensive in the Sinai peninsula earlier this month, the defence ministry has said.

The operation, launched after 16 border guards were killed in an attack on 5 August, has also led to the arrest of 23 suspects and seizures of weapons.

Forces would be redeployed on Wednesday to "complete the hunt for terrorist elements", the ministry added.

The build-up of troops and heavy weapons has caused concern in Israel.

Since 1982, when Israeli troops withdrew, Sinai has remained under a special security regime mandated by the peace treaty the two countries signed in 1979, which restricts Egypt's freedom of military action.

On Monday, Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi stressed that his country was committed to all international treaties and, without naming Israel, said no other states should worry about its actions in Sinai.

"Egypt is practising its very normal role on its soil and does not threaten anyone and there should not be any kind of international or regional concerns at all from the presence of Egyptian security forces," he said.

Checkpoints

Egypt launched "Operation Eagle", which has involved thousands of troops backed by tanks and heavy equipment, after the 16 border guards died in a raid on their base near the Rafah crossing with the Gaza Strip.

After killing the soldiers, the militants crossed the border with Israel in an apparent attempt to carry out another attack. However, they were killed in Israeli air strikes.

No-one has said they were behind the attack, although suspicions have centred on jihadist groups which are known to operate in eastern Sinai.

In the first few days of Operation Eagle, security forces carried out several raids on alleged militant hideouts, but none have been reported since.

Troops also set up checkpoints on main roads and around the main towns of northern Sinai. Initially, some were targets of hit-and-run attacks.

The campaign is being led by the Defence Minister and head of the armed forces, Gen Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who was appointed by President Mursi in a shake-up of the military's leadership on 12 August.

On Monday, the military's chief-of-staff promised local leaders that his troops will "not permit any criminal hideouts in the land of Sinai, and current measures taken ensure that no innocent will be harmed".

Lt-Gen Sidqi Subhi also said they did not aim to "counter thoughts with weapons, but they raise arms in the face of those who carry arms".

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