Army spokesperson: Egypt begins security operation against 'terrorists'

The army spokesman said the operation will involve operational and training manoeuvres to tighten state control on the country's crossing points with neighbouring countries, and urged full cooperation with the law enforcement forces involved in the operation.

In 2014, following a suicide bombing that killed 33 soldiers, current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared a state of emergency in the peninsula, describing it as a "nesting ground for terrorism and terrorists".

Egypt regularly targets militants with air strikes and arrest raids in Sinai.

The army also placed hospitals in the regions affected by the announcement on high alert in preparation for any medical evacuations.

The Sinai Peninsula had always been demilitarised under the terms of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, but as the violence intensified the government responded by ramping up its military presence, with the tacit approval of Israel.

Egypt has been battling a growing militant insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula since the overthrow of the elected former president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Most of the violence has been in North Sinai province, but there have also been attacks on the military, police and even churches elsewhere, including Cairo.

The militants have also attacked tourists, killing all 224 on board a Russian plane carrying holidaymakers in 2015.

The Israeli army has declined to comment on the report, which has been denied by the Egyptian military.

"Great people of Egypt, in a continuation of law enforcement forces' efforts, elements of our air forces targeted some of the pits, hideouts, and ammunition and weapons warehouses used by terrorist elements as a base to target the law enforcement forces and civilian targets in North and Middle Sinai", he said.

The comprehensive anti-terror operation comes weeks before Egypt starts its 2018 presidential elections, where incumbent President Sisi is expected to make an easy win for a second term due to the lack of strong challengers in the race.

Egypt has previously announced several major offensives to tackle the jihadist threat.

It also carried out air strikes against IS in Libya in 2015 after a video was released showing the beheading of 21 Christians, nearly all Egyptian Copts, on a Libyan beach.

The Egyptian armed forces announced on Friday launching a massive nationwide counterterrorism operation named "Comprehensive Operation Sinai 2018".

  • Rogelio Becker