Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday offered his condolences to Egypt after a string of brazen assaults by Islamic State-affiliated gunmen killed at least 70 Egyptians, mostly soldiers and police.
Netanyahu said that the attacks by dozens of militants demonstrated that radical Islamists were encircling the Jewish state.
“Terrorism is knocking at our borders,” the prime minister said during a visit to Hadassah Hospital at Ein Karem, where he met with a female soldier injured when attacked by a Palestinian woman at a checkpoint earlier in the week.
“ISIS is not just opposite the Golan Heights. At the moment it is also in Egypt, opposite Rafah, facing our borders, and we are joined with Egypt and with many other countries in the Middle East and the world in the struggle against the extremist Islamic terrorism that is guided by two elements – Iran and the Shiite extremists, and ISIS and the Sunni extremists — as well as other factions such as Hamas,” he said, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State group.
Netanyahu spoke during a hospital visit to Israeli soldier Liron Israeli, who was badly injured when stabbed by a Palestinian woman at a Jerusalem-Bethlehem checkpoint last week.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also extended his condolences to Egypt, saying he’d “like to embrace the Egyptian people in the wake of this morning’s difficult event in Sinai, a very harsh attack with dozens of casualties, which underscores the fact that this terrorism is engulfing the Middle East.”
Ya’alon also pointed the finger at Iran and Islamist extremist groups, saying it was Israel’s “responsibility, as a state, along with the other countries that are dealing with terrorism, to cooperate and not allow it to raise its head, and I believe that this is what will be done.”
The United States strongly condemned the massive coordinated attack on Egyptian troops in the northern Sinai Peninsula.
White House spokesman Ned Price said Wednesday’s assault was a terrorist attack and that the US “stands resolutely” with Egypt. He said the US extends condolences to the relatives of those who died, as well as to the government and the Egyptian people.
The White House said the US will continue working in partnership with Egypt to address threats to its security amid a series of recent attacks.
Egyptian officials say dozens of Islamic militants unleashed a wave of simultaneous attacks against Egyptian army checkpoints, including suicide car bombings.
The advanced planning and coordinated execution of the attacks show that the long-running insurgency in the area is growing stronger, posing a serious threat to Egypt’s security as the military-backed government struggles to restore stability after years of unrest since the 2011 uprising.
The assault came a day after Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi pledged to step up the battle against Islamic militants and two days after the chief prosecutor was assassinated in the capital, Cairo.
Also on Wednesday, a special forces team killed nine members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, including a former member of parliament, in a raid on an apartment in Cairo’s Sixth of October district, security officials said. The team was fired upon when they entered the home and returned fire, killing the nine men. No security forces were wounded, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief the press.
One of the dead was Nasr al-Hafi, a former deputy in the lower house of parliament for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, while the other was a Brotherhood leader, Abdel-Fattah Mohamed Ibrahim.
Egyptian officials and pro-government media have blamed a series of recent attacks on ousted president Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which is officially branded a terrorist group. The Brotherhood has denied involvement in the attacks, many of which have been claimed by other groups, including the Sinai-based militants behind Wednesday’s coordinated assault, who are loyal to the Islamic State group.
The Sinai attacks underscored the resilience of the militants, who have battled Egyptian security forces in northern Sinai for more than a decade but have intensified their insurgency since the 2013 military overthrow of Morsi, even as the military has deployed reinforcements, imposed strict curfews and demolished homes and tunnels along the border with Hamas-ruled Gaza.
The Islamic State affiliate claimed Wednesday’s attacks, saying its fighters targeted 15 army and police positions and staged three suicide bombings, two that targeted checkpoints and one that hit an officers’ club. The claim’s authenticity could not be immediately verified but it was posted on a Facebook page associated with the group.
The assault focused on the town of Sheikh Zuweid and targeted at least six military checkpoints, the officials said. The militants also took soldiers captive and seized weapons and several armored vehicles, they added, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The officials said scores of militants were besieging Sheikh Zuweid’s main police station, shelling it with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades and exchanging fire with dozens of policemen inside.
At least 55 soldiers were wounded, the officials said. As fighting raged, an army Apache gunship destroyed one of the armored carriers captured by the militants as they were driving away, the officials said.