Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi on Sunday barred negotiations with the kidnappers of three policemen and four soldiers who appeared to plead for their release in an online video.
The abductions on Thursday in the Sinai Peninsula prompted angry police to protest and shut down border crossings with Gaza and Israel, piling the pressure on Mursi to help free their colleagues.
“There are no negotiations with criminals and the awe of the state will be preserved,” Mursi was cited as saying by the official MENA news agency.
A video posted on Sunday by an anonymous account on YouTube appeared to show the seven hostages, blindfolded and with their hands on their heads, identifying themselves.
It was later removed from YouTube only hours after it was broadcast by the media.
One of the hostages was prodded by what appears to be a rifle held by an abductor off screen before another hostage says the kidnappers want the release of detained Bedouin “political activists”.
The hostage mentioned by name a Bedouin militant who belongs to an Islamist group called Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, a security source told Al Arabiya.
The militant was sentenced to death after a 2011 attack on a police station in the north Sinai town of El-Arish.
“We hope that you, president, quickly release the political activists from Sinai as soon as possible because we can no longer stand the torture,” said one hostage.
The policemen, who worked at border crossings, and soldiers were kidnapped at gunpoint while travelling to their homes.
Since the toppling of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, hardline Islamist groups in North Sinai have exploited the collapse of state authority.
Presidential sources told the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that the Egyptian army has urged Mursi to give them the “green light” to launch an attack operation against the kidnappers.
Mursi originally sought negotiations with the kidnappers to “avoid any bloodshed and further complicate the situation in Sinai,” sources told Asharq al-Awsat.