Egypt announced on Saturday that thousands of soldiers and hundreds of armored vehicles have been deployed, with Israel's approval, in the Sinai Peninsula over the weekend in an effort to increase the general security in the area.
Egyptian regional commander in the Sinai, Gen. Salah al-Masri, said, on behalf of the Interior Ministry in Cairo, that additional forces were deployed to stop terror activity from increasing in the peninsula. He said that 150 officers from the police's special forces were also sent into northern Sinai. The forces were also instructed to secure the pipeline delivering gas to Israel and Jordan, which was hit by terrorists several times over the last year.
A total of seven Egyptian battalions were allowed to enter Sinai in complete cooperation with Israel, according to the Palestinian Ma'an news agency quoting Egyptian sources.
In Israel, officials claimed on Saturday that the forces entered Sinai under approval that was granted in August, after the cross-border terror attack in Ein Netafim, near Eilat, which left eight Israelis dead.
"Everything is coordinated," one diplomatic source said.
In light of the deteriorating security situation in Sinai, one Egyptian official told Ma'an that Israel is to be blamed for the increased terrorist activity in the peninsula "as it forbids an Egyptian military presence in the demilitarized areas and so gives terrorists a safe haven in the northern Sinai."
Israel relinquished control of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in 1979 after the two countries signed a peace treaty stipulating that the entire area would remain demilitarized. In February 2011, Israel allowed Egypt to deploy soldiers in Sinai to crack down on hostile Bedouin in the area and protect a vulnerable pipeline that delivers natural gas to Israel. Upon request by Israel, Egypt later recalled its troops.
News of the Egyptian military deployment in the Sinai on Saturday came as Hosni Mubarak's former intelligence minister announced he is entering Egypt's presidential race, while other politicians battled to keep their candidates from being disqualified on technical grounds.
The moves shook up Egyptian politics and raised passions one day before the deadline on Sunday for candidates to nominate themselves in the country's first free presidential vote, scheduled to take place in two rounds in May and June.