Egypt launches air strikes after clashes in Sinai


Egypt launched air strikes near its border with Israel today and killed more than 20 suspected Islamic militants, in a crackdown on jihadists blamed for a deadly attack on Egyptian border police, an army official and eyewitnesses said.

The air strikes around the town of Sheikh Zuwaid, six miles from the Gaza Strip, followed clashes overnight between armed men and security forces at several checkpoints in the north of Egypt's Sinai region.

Gunmen killed 16 border guards on Sunday in the bloodiest attack on security forces in the tense Sinai region in decades. They seized two armoured vehicles to storm through the border into Israel, where they were eventually killed by Israeli fire.

Israel said Egypt's military action was a necessary response to deal with groups threatening security along the isolated desert frontier.

Witnesses in the town said they saw two military planes fly over the area and heard explosions. Other people near the town said they saw three cars bombed.

Troops entered the village of al-Toumah close to Sheikh Zuwaid as part of the operation after the army received information that Islamist militants were staying there, a military commander in Sinai told Reuters.

"We have succeeded in entering al-Toumah village, killed 20 terrorists and destroyed three armoured cars belonging to terrorists. Operations are still ongoing," he said by telephone.

Israel stepped up pressure on Egypt's government to get a grip on lawlessless near the border. Egypt's army promised harsh retribution for the attackers, branding them "infidels".

There was little sign of an immediate crackdown by Egyptian security forces until Tuesday night when armed men opened fire on several checkpoints in al-Arish town, the main state security and administrative centre for northern Sinai.

Gunmen also attacked checkpoints in Rafah, Egypt's entry point into the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip that borders both Israel and Egypt.

A statement issued by the interior ministry said three policemen and one resident were wounded in those assaults.