Egypt shuts Gaza crossing, orders alert after Sinai attacks

Terror strikes on military installations near Israel border leave one Egyptian soldier dead

Egyptian army soldiers stand guard on the border with Egypt in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, July 2013. (photo credit: AP/Hatem Moussa)
Egyptian army soldiers stand guard on the border with Egypt in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, July 2013. (photo credit: AP/Hatem Moussa)

Egypt’s military placed forces on high alert in two parts of the Sinai peninsula Friday, hours after presumed Islamist militants launched an early morning assault on Egyptian security forces near the border with Israel, killing one.

The country also shuttered its border with the Gaza Strip at Rafah, turning away some 200 Palestinians trying to leave the coastal enclave.

State TV reported that the army had declared a “state of emergency,” but the military later issued a statement denying the report, but confirming the high alert status.

In the early hour of Friday, a rocket attack on a police station in the border city of Rafah left a soldier dead and two others wounded, military sources said.

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According to witnesses who spoke to AFP, the building attacked was a military intelligence installation.

Egyptian media identified the soldier killed Friday as 22-year-old Yehia Mohammed Abu al-Magd.

In another attack, on the el-Arish airport, gunmen fired a rocket-propelled grenade and threw hand grenades at a security checkpoint. No injuries or damage were reported.

Al-Jazeera reported that gunmen attacked five military checkpoints in el-Arish and Sheik Zweid Friday morning. Security sources cited by the news site said reinforcements were being deployed to el-Arish.

It was not clear which groups were responsible for the attacks or whether the violence was linked to the overthrow of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist who had ordered a crackdown on militant activity in the peninsula.

By late Friday morning, Egypt had shut down its crossing into Gaza, the first possible sign of a loss of standing for the Strip’s Hamas rulers.

Gen. Sami el-Metwali did not say when the crossing would be reopened.

Egypt’s army is girding for large protests by Islamists who backed Morsi on Friday afternoon, with many expecting rallies to turn violent. The army beefed up its presence in Cairo and Sinai on Friday.

On Thursday evening, loud explosions were reported in the southern Israeli city of Eilat. Israeli security forces scanned the area for possible rocket fragments, but found none. The resort town has come under attack from the Sinai Peninsula multiple times in the past several years.

The Israeli military on Tuesday confirmed that Egypt had moved additional armored forces into the border area near the Gaza Strip in coordination with Israel, in order to combat Islamist militants running rampant in the lawless Sinai Peninsula.

Sinai terrorists have faced a crackdown over the last year as Egyptian security forces have attempted to cleanse the peninsula of Islamist militants. Last August, a band of gunmen attacked an Egyptian army base on the Gaza border, killing 16 soldiers, then hijacked an armored personnel carrier and rammed it through the Israeli border.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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