Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is cutting short a visit to Ethiopia where he was due to attend the African Union summit, to return home to deal with a wave of deadly militant attacks, his office said on Friday.
Egypt’s deadliest militant group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, had claimed responsibility for a series of attacks that killed at least 30 security personnel on Thursday night in some of the worst anti-government violence in months.
Two children were also killed in clashes between the army and Sinai militants on Friday, security officials said.
Health officials said a six-month-old baby was hit in the head by a bullet and a six-year-old was killed in a rocket blast in the peninsula. Two more people including a 12-year-old were badly wounded by gunfire.
In a Twitter account linked to the militant group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis claimed a series of attacks that struck several targets in North Sinai and Suez provinces where security forces are battling a raging Islamist insurgency.
The group said it "executed extensive, simultaneous attacks in the cities of El-Arish, Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah," according to Agence France-Presse.
Meanwhile Saudi Arabia has condemned the attacks against the Egyptian army in Sinai, saying the kingdom “stand with Egypt in the fight against terrorism in all its forms,” television news channel Al Arabiya reported late Friday.
Thursday's first attack was a bombing targeting a military headquarters, base and hotel in the capital of North Sinai province that killed 25 and wounded at least 58, including nine civilians, security and medical sources said.
The flagship government newspaper, al-Ahram, said its office in the city of Al-Arish, which is situated opposite the military buildings, had been "completely destroyed," although it was not clear if it had been a target.
Later, suspected militants killed an army major and wounded six others at a checkpoint in Rafah, followed by a roadside bomb in Suez city that killed a police officer, and an assault on a checkpoint south of Al-Arish that wounded four soldiers, security sources said.
Elsewhere, security sources said a suspected militant had been killed while attempting to plant a bomb at a power transformer in Port Said.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group last year.
Attacks against security forces have intensified since President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood was removed from power following mass protests against his rule.
The U.S. State Department condemned Thursday’s attack, saying in a statement: "The United States remains steadfast in its support of the Egyptian government's efforts to combat the threat of terrorism in Egypt as part of our continuing commitment to the strategic partnership between our two countries."
The violence and civil unrest comes as Egypt is trying to burnish its image in the run-up to an investor's summit in mid-March, to be followed by parliamentary elections.
The attacks in Al-Arish and Rafah continue a pattern of unrest in the remote but strategic Sinai Peninsula, which borders the Gaza Strip, Israel and Egypt's Suez Canal.