NORTH AFRICA

Egypt begins security operation against ‘terrorists’, closes Gaza border

An Egyptian soldier stands guard at Saint Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Cairo on December 31, 2017. (Reuters)

Egypt on Friday launched a major security operation involving the army and police against “terrorist and criminal elements and organizations” across the country, the army spokesman said.

The army spokesman said the operation covers areas in Sinai, the Delta and the Western Desert and it follows a three-month deadline set by President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi to crush a years-long Islamist insurgency.

“The law enforcement forces began this morning implementing the comprehensive confrontation against the terrorist and criminal elements and organizations in northern and central Sinai,” an army spokesman said in a televised statement.

Operational and training maneuvers

The army spokesman said the operation will involve operational and training maneuvers to tighten state control on the country's crossing points with neighboring countries, and urged full cooperation with the law enforcement forces involved in the operation.

Residents reported hearing extensive air activities above the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, which is close to the area of operations in northern and central Sinai.

Security forces have for years battled an ISIS insurgency in North Sinai that has killed hundreds of soldiers and police. The militants have expanded their targets to include civilians over the last year or so.

Closing the Gaza border

Egypt closed its border on Friday with the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials said, after Cairo launched a major operation against jihadists in the Sinai Peninsula.

The head of Hamas, the Islamist group which runs Gaza, was however permitted to travel to Cairo for talks before the border was closed a day earlier than planned.

Friday was supposed to be the final of a three-day border opening for humanitarian cases from Gaza, the first time the Rafah border crossing with Egypt had been open in 2018.

“The Rafah border was closed today due to the security situation in Sinai, we were informed by the Egyptian authorities,” said Saleh al-Zaq, head of the civil affairs committee which controls the borders.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya crossed the border to Cairo for talks with Egyptian leaders before Rafah was closed, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said.

He said the talks would include an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal between Hamas and rival Palestinian movement Fatah that has faltered, with multiple deadlines missed.

It was believed to be Haniya’s first trip outside Gaza since the United States included him on its terror blacklist last month.

- With AFP

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Last Update: Friday, 9 February 2018 KSA 18:48 - GMT 15:48
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