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Egyptian helicopters hammer militants in Sinai

Two army officers reported killed in second day of major offensive against terror groups

Egyptian army soldiers patrol in an armored vehicle, backed by a helicopter gunship, during a sweep through villages in the northern Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, in May 2013. (AP)
Egyptian army soldiers patrol in an armored vehicle, backed by a helicopter gunship, during a sweep through villages in the northern Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, in May 2013. (AP)

EL-ARISH, Egypt — Militants clashed with the Egyptian army in the northern Sinai peninsula Sunday, on the second day of a major offensive aiming at quelling an insurgency in the lawless region.

An Egyptian official said helicopter gunships targeted the villages of el-Mahdiya and el-Moqataa near the towns of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweyid on the border with the Gaza Strip. Three US-made Apache helicopters fired rockets, hitting shacks, houses and cars used by militants, the official said.

At the same time, two Egyptian officers were reported killed by a roadside bomb in the al-Taweel region of northern Sinai, Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm reported.

The Egyptian official said the airstrikes were to pave the way for a ground offensive, in which troops backed by armored vehicles would search homes of suspected militants.

The official spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to brief the press.

On Saturday Egyptian tanks and helicopter gunships reportedly killed 30 militants in towns in the northern Sinai, in what officials described as a major offensive. Residents who witnessed winding columns of trucks and armored vehicles pour into the area said the operation was one of the largest there in years.

Since the ousting of former president Mohammed Morsi in July, Egyptian forces have been engaged in a widespread and determined campaign against terror groups across the Sinai.

Dozens of people have been killed on both sides of the battles that have also raged in areas along the border with the Gaza Strip. Egyptian authorities have also clamped down on smuggling operations across the border, destroying many tunnels that, they say, are used to support terror groups in the Sinai.

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