Egypt launches unprecedented assault against Isil militants on Sinai peninsula

Telegraph Reporters
Egyptian Army's Armoured Vehicles are seen on a highway to North Sinai during a launch of a major assault against militants, in Ismailia - REUTERS

Egypt launched a major assault against militants Friday focused on the Sinai peninsula, where Isil has staged deadly attacks, aiming to crush their insurgency by an end of February deadline set by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The former general last November ordered the military to defeat militants in North Sinai within three months, after an attack on a mosque which killed more than 300 people, the deadliest such incident in the Arab world's most populous country.

Residents said they saw warplanes flying above the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, which borders North Sinai to the west.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip north-east of the vast desert region said they could hear explosions coming from across the border, but there was no immediate word on any casualties.

The campaign by the army, navy, air force, border patrol and police is taking place ahead of a March election in which Mr Sisi is seeking a second term.

 Egyptian Army's helicopters join the assault Credit: Reuters

He is widely expected to win. In a Facebook posting on his account, Mr Sisi wrote: "I follow with pride the heroic actions of my sons in the armed forces and police to clear Egypt's territory of terrorist elements."

A military spokesman said the operation would cover large parts of Sinai, but also parts of the Nile Delta and the Western Desert, where other militants have waged attacks, some believed to be staged out of neighbouring Libya.

Security sources said on Thursday the operation, which had been in planning for some time, was unprecedented in its scope, coordination and size, involving thousands of troops, but did not provide further details.

"The armed forces calls upon the Egyptian people in all parts of the country to closely cooperate with law enforcement forces to confront terrorism, uproot it and immediately report any elements threatening the security and stability of the country," military spokesman, Colonel Tamer al-Rifai, said in a televised address.

Col Tamer el-Rifaai said in a second statement the air force had targeted militant hide-outs in north and central Sinai, while the navy tightened its maritime control to cut off supply lines.

State television said Friday that all schools in North Sinai had been ordered shut from Saturday until further notice.

The Suez Canal Authority chairman said the international waterway was operating normally.