Egyptian air force fighter jets and Apache combat helicopters fired missiles on suspected Islamic terrorists Tuesday night in Sinai, according to Egyptian security officials and residents. More than 20 suspected terrorists have been killed in the offensive, which is ongoing, according to the state-run Ahram news website.
Security officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday morning that they launched the missile attack just hours after three security checkpoints were attacked by Islamic terrorists in north Sinai's main city of El Arish, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Gaza-Israel border.
Officials say six people were wounded in the latest terrorist attacks — among them a military officer, two soldiers, two policemen and a civilian whose condition is critical.
It was the first time that the Egyptian army has fired missiles in Sinai since Egypt's 1973 war with Israel, which was an attempt to recapture the Sinai Peninsula. According to Israel Radio Wednesday morning, terrorists responded by firing rockets at the helicopters.
Meanwhile, Egyptian intelligence head Mourad Mowafy was quoted by Turkish news agency Anatolia as saying Egypt had received intelligence about Sunday's attack on the Egypt-Israel border before it took place. “But this does not diminish the ability of our security agencies and their vigilance in Sinai,” he said, adding that preliminary information suggests that the alleged perpetrators belong to an extremist group in Sinai and Gaza. Mowafy said that “Despite the detailed information about the attack, we never imagined that a Muslim would kill a Muslim during the meal to end the Ramadan fast day."
Bedouin resident Abdel Rahman Abol Malkhous said he saw attack helicopters overhead Tuesday firing missiles about 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) east of El Arish in the area known as Sheikh Zuwayed near the Rafah border crossing with Gaza. Security officials said the military also carried out separate attacks just outside of Sheikh Zuwayed.
Egypt also began to seal off smuggling tunnels into the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, a security source said.
"The campaign aims at closing all the openings between Egypt and the Gaza Strip that are used in smuggling operations," said the security source. Egyptian security officials spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The belief in Israel is that Gaza-based Palestinian terror groups were not involved in the attack Sunday night that killed 16 Egyptian policemen and soldiers. In Egypt, however, security officials have said that two of the killed terrorists were Palestinians.
Egypt's military also said "forces from the Gaza Strip" aided the perpetrators behind the Sinai attack by shelling the Egyptian-Israeli border crossing with mortars as the attack was taking place.
Following Sunday's deadly terrorist attack, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood on Monday said on its website that the attack "can be attributed to [the] Mossad" and was an attempt to harm the Egyptian revolution and topple President Mohammed Morsi.
However, according to a senior Egyptian official on Tuesday, Egypt had absolutely no complaints against Israel on the matter. "The complaints need to be pointed toward the Egyptian security forces which ignored the precise Israeli warnings. Morsi never paid any attention to the accusations [against Israel], and his close associates said he was furious when he heard the blame being put on Israel."
The 16 soldiers and policemen killed in the attack were buried in Egypt on Tuesday. Some mourners who held Morsi's administration responsible for the deaths rushed at the attending prime minister, Hesham Kandil, and other Islamist politicians as they left a mosque.
Some mourners pelted Kandil with shoes while others held their shoes high, pointing their soles at him in a gesture of contempt, before he was whisked away by aides.
With animosity against the Muslim Brotherhood riding high, Morsi did not attend the funeral. His spokesman said that the president, who is accompanied by a security detail, did not want his presence to impede "popular participation." The president had visited the scene of the attack the day before.
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