Egyptian military source denies troops were sent to Sinai

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An Egyptian military source has denied on Monday that troops were sent across the Suez Canal to Sinai in an operation set to free the seven soldiers and policeman kidnapped last week, according to Al Arabiya sources.

The military source instead told Al Arabiya that the army is waiting to be given the green light before attempting the operation.

Earlier today, Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram said that Egypt sent dozens of armored vehicles and personnel carriers across the Suez Canal into Sinai, where Islamist gunmen kidnapped the border guards.

Gunmen demanding the release of jailed Islamist militants seized the hostages on the road between the Sinai towns of el-Arish and Rafah on Thursday. The military reinforcements indicate that force could be used to rescue the hostages, according to al-Ahram, citing an Egyptian security official.

The abductions in Sinai prompted angry police to protest and shut down border crossings with Gaza and Israel, piling the pressure on Mursi to help free their colleagues.

Egypt's President Mohammed Mursi on Sunday barred negotiations with the kidnappers of the three policemen and four soldiers who appeared to plead for their release in an online video.

“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, AFP news agency reported.

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.

On Sunday, reports circulated that the Egyptian army urged Mursi to give them the “green light” to launch an attack operation against the kidnappers, presidential sources told the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.

In another spasm of violence in the area, gunmen stormed an Egyptian security forces base in Sinai at dawn on Monday and exchanged gunfire with forces inside the base before retreating, security sources told Reuters news agency.

The gunmen attacked the base in the al-Ahrash area in North Sinai from a truck and fired automatic weapons, but the attack did not result in any casualties.

The identity of the attackers was not immediately clear, but security sources said they were likely to be Islamist militants.

Hardline Islamist groups in North Sinai were emboldened by the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. They have exploited the ensuing collapse of state authority and attacked targets in North Sinai and across the border in Israel.

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