Cairo seeking Israeli okay to widen Sinai offensive — report

Egyptian army presence near border limited by Camp David Accords; Jerusalem says it won’t stop military from chasing terrorists

Army trucks carry Egyptian military tanks in El-Arish, in the northern Sinai Peninsula in August 2012. (photo credit: AP)
Army trucks carry Egyptian military tanks in El-Arish, in the northern Sinai Peninsula in August 2012. (photo credit: AP)

As attacks in the Sinai escalate, the military leadership in Egypt is reportedly seeking Israeli approval to launch a broad campaign to root out Islamic extremists in the largely wild peninsula.

The operation is expected to begin in the next several days, but Egyptian authorities need an okay from Jerusalem under the peace treaty between the countries, the Times of London reported Thursday.

There have been several attacks on Egyptian troops in the Sinai over the last several days, the army says, as jihadists, including Palestinians from Gaza according to some reports, have attempted to take advantage of a lack of stability since the ouster of president Mohammed Morsi in an army coup.

An Israeli army source told the British paper that Jerusalem saw no reason to decline Cairo’s request.

“We consider securing Sinai a top priority and have no wish to tie the hands of the Egyptian Army against clearing the area of dangerous terrorists,” the unnamed source said.

On Wednesday, two border guards were killed and six injured in an attack on an army outpost.

The attack outside the city of Rafah, which borders the Gaza Strip, was the latest in a series of strikes believed to have been carried out by Islamist terrorist groups in the lawless territory since last week’s military coup in Cairo.

Gunmen shot and killed an Egyptian soldier near the northern Sinai city of el-Arish Sunday night, a day after a Coptic priest was gunned down in the same town by suspected militants.

On Friday, jihadists carried out a coordinated attack against army positions in Rafah and El-Arish in the northern Sinai, near the border with Gaza, last week, killing one. The strike followed a missile launch, believed to be from Sinai, that landed in an open area near Eilat the day before.

On Thursday morning an Egyptian soldier was shot and killed by smugglers near the Rafah border crossing.

Egypt shuttered the border with Gaza in response, and has cracked down on smuggling tunnels into the Palestinian enclave. Cairo temporarily reopened the border on Wednesday for the start of the Ramadan holiday.

According to the terms of the 1979 Camp David peace accords, the area near the border in Sinai is demilitarized, monitored by the Multinational Force and Observers, an international peacekeeping force. Any deployment in the region must be approved by Israel. 

Washington will also reportedly support such a move.

Israel has approved a number of military buildups in the peninsula over the last several years, as Cairo has attempted to clean out the largely lawless area.

In January 2011, when nationwide demonstrations threatened the regime of Morsi’s predecessor Hosni Mubarak, Israel agreed to Egyptian troops entering the area near Sharm el Sheikh, the first time Cairo had a military presence there since the Camp David accords were signed.

In August 2012, the Egyptian army launched a massive operation in the peninsula, the largest troop presence in the Sinai since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, after terrorists killed 16 Egyptian soldiers on their way to infiltrate Israel.

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