The Egyptian Army has launched Operation ‘Desert Storm’ in a bid to restore order to the lawless Sinai Peninsula, where an undetermined number of terrorist groups have set up bases, military sources said Saturday.
At least 20 Egyptian police officers and soldiers were killed since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in clashes with Sinai terrorists, local sources said.
Security forces exchanged fire with unidentified gunmen throughout last week as attacks on police outposts escalated, following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood-backed government.
Israel has been closely watching the region, which borders both Israel and Gaza.
“We receive reports of terror attacks from there every day and the concern is, of course, that the barrels will be turned against us,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told foreign news agencies.
“We have strengthened our preparations along the border and in Eilat, we mobilized an Iron Dome battery in case someone dares fire at the city.”
Israel approved the addition of firepower to military forces in the Sinai, Ya’alon said, because “they really are directing these forces to fight terrorism.”
Among the terrorists operating in Sinai are those linked to the Hamas rulers of Gaza, who over the weekend condemned the new Egyptian government’s decision to charge Morsi with links to the Palestinian Islamist terror movement.
The allegations came as the Egyptian government recently destroyed dozens of smuggling tunnels under the border between Egypt and Gaza, particularly in the Sinai region, and enforced a closure of the Rafiah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which until the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak in January 2011, was considered an extremist Islamist movement in Egypt, one that was banned in the country.
Morsi entered office in democratic elections held just over a year ago following the January 25 Revolution, although many in the country claimed the polls were rigged, with Islamists harassing voters at the balloting stations.
Egyptian Army General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi removed Morsi from power when he refused to resign after a petition signed by 22 million Egyptian citizens was submitted to the government, demanding Morsi step down on the anniversary of his election.
Hamas officials have since expressed outrage against the current Egyptian government, with senior spokesperson Ahmed Bahr saying Morsi’s arrest was “ridiculous” and adding “We see these charges as reflecting political naivete.” He stated that the charges against the former president were part of the “black scheme” against Gaza, himself and other Hamas officials.