Over 100 people have been killed after ISIS-linked terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula coordinated a wave of suicide bombings and battles on Egyptian army outposts on Wednesday, leaving 64 soldiers, 90 jihadists and four civilians dead.
The coordinated Sinai assault focused on the town of Sheikh Zuweid and targeted at least six military checkpoints, security officials said. The jihadists also took soldiers captive and seized weapons and several armoured vehicles. Wednesday’s assault was the biggest battle in the Sinai since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
Following the attacks, the IDF has deployed additional troops on the Sinai border and is on high alert according to security sources.
Egypt and Israel have accused Hamas of aiding the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis terror group in the Sinai, by providing weapons and logistical support. Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai said: “We have examples of Hamas commanders actively taking part in this assistance…Wael Faraj, a battalion commander in Hamas’s armed wing, smuggled wounded [fighters] from Sinai to the Gaza Strip”.
Egypt has long accused Hamas of smuggling weapons to Salafist militants in the volatile Sinai Peninsula, where scores of soldiers and policemen have been killed since the army overthrew former President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has offered condolences to Egypt and warned about the growth of extremism, stating: “Terrorism is knocking at our borders…ISIS is not just opposite the Golan Heights. At the moment it is also in Egypt, opposite Rafah, facing our borders, and we are joined with Egypt and with many other countries in the Middle East and the world in the struggle against the extremist Islamic terrorism that is guided by two elements – Iran and the Shiite extremists, and ISIS and the Sunni extremists — as well as other factions such as Hamas”.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is Egypt’s deadliest terror group. In November 2014, the Salafist group pledged allegiance to ISIS’ self-declared caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and has since vowed to “liberate Jerusalem”.
In recent weeks, Egypt has eased its blockade of the Hamas-ruled Strip, opening the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Sinai for brief periods. Since 2013, the Egyptian Army has intermittently closed the Rafah border, due to its concerns in preventing Hamas from smuggling arms to Salafists.