The IDF has acquired intelligence that Hamas is providing weaponry and other support to the Islamic State’s Sinai affiliate, Wilayat Sinai, the group thought to be behind Wednesday’s deadly attack on Egyptian security services, a top Israeli officer said Thursday.
The coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, told the Arabic-language news network al-Jazeera that along with military support, Hamas has also been providing medical support to injured IS operatives.
Wednesday’s attack, which included a wave of suicide bombings and assaults on security installations by dozens of militants, saw Sinai’s deadliest fighting in decades. Security officials said dozens of troops were killed, along with nearly 100 attackers.
Mordechai claimed a high-ranking officer in Hamas’s military wing, named as Wa’al Faraj, has been smuggling injured Islamic State fighters into the Gaza Strip for medical treatment.
Another top Hamas commander involved in training fighters, Abdullah Kishta, had been lending his expertise to Islamic State jihadists in Sinai, Mordechai said, adding that the IDF has “proof” of these direct ties.
Wilayat Sinai (Province of Sinai) was known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis before it pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State.
The IDF on Thursday beefed up its presence along the border with the Sinai Peninsula following the attacks, as security officials cautioned that the IS-affiliated group could attempt to overrun the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli army deployed additional troops and was monitoring the fighting across the border using UAVs, Israel Radio reported Wednesday.
“We see in front of our eyes IS acting with extraordinary cruelty both on our northern border and at our southern border,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday, referring to operatives of the group who have been fighting in the Syrian civil war.
“Our hearts are with the Egyptian people, we send our condolences to the Egyptian government and the families of those who were killed in battle by cruel terror.”
Egyptian officials said the military killed 23 extremists in dawn raids Thursday in northern Sinai, just south of the border town of Rafah, near the Gaza Strip.
They said the army was also seeking out militants house to house in the town of Sheikh Zuweid — where the militants attacked at least five army checkpoints the previous day — and de-mining roads in and around the area that extremists had booby trapped with mines and improvised explosives devices.
The Sinai attacks were the most brazen in their scope since jihadists launched an insurgency in 2013 following the army’s overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed 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.
AP and AFP contributed to this report.