The Israel Defense Forces beefed up its presence along the border with the Sinai Peninsula on Thursday, after dozens of people were killed Wednesday in a wave of unprecedented attacks by the Islamic State group on Egyptian soldiers.
Meanwhile, a former Israeli national security adviser cautioned there was a “real concern” that the IS-affiliated Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which claimed Thursday’s massive assault, could attempt to overrun the Gaza Strip.
Egyptian medical and security officials said at least 70 people, mostly soldiers, were killed in the attacks and hours of clashes Wednesday, along with dozens of jihadists.
The military said 17 soldiers and 100 militants had been killed. It was not immediately possible to explain the discrepancy.
In response, the Israeli army deployed additional troops and was on high alert along the southern frontier, Israel Radio reported Wednesday.
The army was monitoring the fighting across the border using UAVs, it added.
The move came a day after the Defense Ministry shuttered the crossings into the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
IDF sources told the news outlet the army was concerned the fighting could spill over into Israel, and said it was preparing for every scenario, including infiltration by jihadists and abduction attempts.
Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland (ret.), formerly the national security chief, said there was a “real concern” that the jihadists could capture the coastal enclave, and urged the Israeli government to work to ensure Hamas remains effectively in control of the Gaza Strip.
He assessed that the Sinai jihadists posed no real threat to Egypt’s stability, both due to Cairo’s military prowess and a fairly supportive Egyptian public.
Following the Wednesday morning assault, Egyptian sources told Arab-language media that the situation was “100 percent under control” by Wednesday night. But warplanes resumed strikes against IS positions into the early hours of Thursday, security officials said.
According to Sky News Arabic, an additional 23 jihadists — including senior members of the IS-linked group — were killed overnight Wednesday-Thursday.
In Rafah, on the border with the Gaza Strip, a 19-year-old was killed when a stray rocket hit his home during clashes between the military and jihadists.
Explosions were heard and plumes of smoke seen over Sheikh Zuweid from the neighboring Gaza Strip, witnesses there said Wednesday.
F-16 warplanes bombarded the militants as they fought security forces on the streets of the North Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid after striking military checkpoints in a surprise attack after dawn on Wednesday. The militants withdrew from Sheikh Zuweid after almost eight hours of fighting, the officials said.
The violence came two days after state prosecutor Hisham Barakat was assassinated in a Cairo car bombing, the most senior government official killed in the jihadist insurgency, which has raged since the army’s overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Also on Wednesday, Egypt’s government adopted a controversial anti-terror law put forward after his killing that imposes harsher punishments on convicted terrorists and aims to target their sources of financing.
In the capital, police killed senior Muslim Brotherhood member Nasser al-Houfi and eight others during a raid on an apartment, security officials and a member of the Islamist movement said.
The Sinai attacks were the most brazen in their scope since jihadists launched an insurgency in 2013 following the ouster of Morsi.
Militants took over rooftops and fired rocket-propelled grenades at a police station in Sheikh Zuweid after mining its exits to block reinforcements, a police colonel said.
“This is war,” a senior military officer told AFP. “It’s unprecedented, in the number of terrorists involved and the type of weapons they are using.”
One car bomb attack against a checkpoint south of Sheikh Zuweid killed 15 soldiers.
The Islamic State group said its jihadists surrounded the police station after launching attacks on 15 checkpoints and security installations using suicide car bombers and rockets.
Troops regularly come under attack in the Sinai, where jihadists have killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers since Morsi’s overthrow.
IS said the assault had involved three suicide bombers. “In a blessed raid enabled by God, the lions of the caliphate have simultaneously attacked more than 15 checkpoints belonging to the apostate army,” it said in a statement.