Egypt launches airstrikes in Sinai


An Egyptian truck carrying armoured vehicles through El-Arish on the Sinai Peninsula in 2011.



Egyptian officials today said military airstrikes on a Sinai town near the border with Israel have killed over 20 suspected Islamic insurgents, reported Reuters.

The airstrikes mark a fresh escalation in violence in the region following a Sunday border assault on Egyptian troops that killed 16 soldiers.

There was no immediate independent confirmation of the militant deaths claimed by Egyptian officials. 

More from GlobalPost: Israel 'had intel' on Sinai attack, blames Egypt for border assault that killed 16

Sunday's bold attack stoked tensions in the neighborhood, with the Muslim Brotherhood — the party of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi — accusing Israel's Mossad of being behind the incident, said the BBC, allegations Israel has denied as "nonsense."

Today's airstrikes reportedly hit the town of Sheikh Zuwaid near the Gaza Strip, hours after overnight clashes were reported at a number of security points in Egypt's restive Sinai area, said Reuters

Eyewitnesses told Egypt's Ahram Online that military helicopters had "pounded several spots in the town," which had been taken over by Bedouin tribesmen, according to Reuters

Egyptian authorities are also beefing up their military presence near the Israeli border town of Rafah in anticipation of further clashes with militants, said Britain's The Telegraph

Ahram Online also cited reports of gunfire at a number of North Sinai security checkpoints in the early hours today. 

Egypt has blamed the bloodshed on "infidels" and vowed retribution, said Reuters, while Israel's defense minister Ehud Barak said he hoped the incident would be a "wake-up call" for Egypt to more closely monitor the volatile region, according to Ahram Online

The Sinai region, criss-crossed with swelling migrant routes and believed rife with criminal activity, has seen an uptick in smuggling and kidnappings recently. It is also known as a crossing point for Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Islamist Hamas group. Hamas has "distanced" itself from any involvement with Sunday's attack, according to Ahram Online

Meanwhile, North Sinai Bedouin have strengthened their hold on many Sinai areas during the last year of political upheaval in Egypt.

The tribal community, whose distinct traditions and dialect set them apart from the rest of Egypt, are traditionally given little attention from Cairo, according to GlobalPost's Erin Cunningham

More from GlobalPost: Egypt: Security in the Sinal Peninsula is getting worse