Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi on Thursday held crisis talks with his defense and interior ministers over the kidnapping of seven policemen and soldiers in Sinai, as negotiations were underway to secure their release.
Egyptian security services were in talks with the kidnappers via mediators for the release of three Egyptian policemen and four soldiers held at gunpoint overnight in the Sinai Peninsula, state media reported.
“There are huge efforts underway” for their release, said Samih Ahmed Bashadi, head of security in the province of North Sinai.
"The security services are in contact with the respectable elders of North Sinai over the matter," Bashadi told state television in a call-in.
Earlier Mursi had summoned Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim over the kidnapping.
According to the official MENA news agency, the kidnappers are demanding the release of a group of prisoners held at a police station in the North Sinai town of el-Arish.
The conscripts were returning from a leave of absence when their minibus was stopped at gunpoint in al-Wadi al-Akhdar, which lies east of el-Arish, they said.
The three captured policemen are from the Central Security Forces while the four other men belong to the armed forces.
Local Bedouin leaders had been called in to mediate between authorities and the kidnappers.
Witnesses, meanwhile told MENA that authorities are restricting the movement of troops in North Sinai until the crisis is resolved.
They said several vehicles carrying soldiers heading to military camps in the North Sinai town of Rafah were unable to proceed.
A spate of hostage takings, which usually last for no longer than 48 hours, broke out in Sinai after an uprising forced out president Hosni Mubarak in early 2011 and battered his security services.
Islamist militants have exploited the lawlessness and upheaval in the Sinai Peninsula to establish a launch pad for increasingly brazen attacks on security forces, a key gas export pipeline and on neighboring Israel.
Who are the kidnappers?
The Sinai kidnappers are usually Bedouin who want to trade the hostages for jailed fellow tribesmen.
Bedouin have recently kidnapped tourists from Hungary, Israeli and Norway in the south of the peninsula, which is dotted with beach resorts, to press for the release of jailed relatives.
Last month, at least two Grad rockets fired from Sinai exploded in the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat.
Over the past few years, there has been intermittent rocket fire on Eilat from Sinai.
In April last year, a rocket fired from Sinai hit Eilat but caused no casualties, with police finding another unexploded rocket near the city days later.
In August, another two rockets rocked Eilat, again injuring no-one.
Since the collapse of Mubarak’s regime, Israel’s border with Sinai has seen multiple security incidents, with militants using the lawless peninsula to stage attacks on the Jewish state.
The most serious incident was in August 2011, when gunmen infiltrated southern Israel and staged a series of ambushes that killed eight Israelis.