Egypt’s military launched airstrikes against jihadist targets in the Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, the army said, after the Islamic State group killed 12 soldiers at a checkpoint.
Israel’s Haaretz newspaper quoted Egyptian defense sources as saying that around 100 jihadists were killed in around three hours of strikes.
Meanwhile Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said that his country’s war against jihadists in Sinai would be long, but that conditions in the vast and arid region were improving.
In an interview with Egypt’s three state-owned newspapers, he acknowledged that both the extremists and government forces were getting better at fighting each other in the strategic area bordering Israel and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
“Conditions in Sinai are improving and (our) efforts are continuing because the war is long,” said Sissi. “The terrorists are evolving and we are improving our operations.”
The Egyptian defense sources said that warplanes struck three targets — el-Arish, the provincial capital of North Sinai, and the towns of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid, both near the border with the Gaza Strip.
Northern Sinai is a stronghold of the Sunni extremists, who have killed hundreds of soldiers and police since the military overthrew Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in 2013.
Friday’s attack saw mortar rounds and rockets fired at an army post west of el-Arish, according to officials.
The military said in a televised statement that its aircraft had taken off at dawn on Saturday for a reconnaissance and bombing mission that lasted several hours and was still ongoing.
It said the strikes targeted hideouts of armed extremists involved in Friday’s assault, adding that a number of the jihadists were killed and weapons destroyed.
The military has poured troops into the peninsula in recent years to battle the insurgency.
IS has also targeted foreigners in Egypt and claimed last year’s bombing of a Russian airliner carrying tourists home from a Sinai resort. All 224 people on board were killed.