Egyptian helicopter gunships attack Sinai militants


Egyptian helicopter gunships have attacked militants in the northern Sinai Peninsula in a continuing effort to control the largely lawless region.

Government troops have stepped up their crackdown on militants in the peninsula bordering Gaza and Israel, arresting suspects and destroying tunnels along the Gaza border used for smuggling weapons and people. Attacks by Islamic militants surged in the lawless Sinai after the toppling of president Mohammed Morsi.

Security officials said military helicopters targeted multiple locations along the borders with Gaza and in northern Sinai, apparently going after hideouts of suspected militants and weapons caches.

One official said the helicopter attacks surprised militant gatherings in three houses in al-Muqataa and Touma near the border with the Gaza Strip.

Dozens of militants were believed killed and wounded but fighting was still ongoing, said the official.

The increase in Egyptian counter-insurgency operations in the Sinai started after the overthrow of Mr Morsi, accused by the military of turning a blind eye to militant activity.

Army commandos lhave arrested two members of an al-Qaida-linked group that had fired rockets at Israel. They are also believed to have been involved in the killing of 25 off duty policemen last month near the border in one of the worst recent attacks against Egyptian security forces.

Security forces still have a long list of militants they are trying to arrest. Most are thought to be in hiding at the border area with Gaza and Israel and in the central Sinai mountains.

The Mujahideen Shura Council has claimed responsibility for several rocket attacks on Israel, most recently on August 13.

In that attempt, Israel said its "Iron Dome" missile defence system shot down a rocket launched from Egypt targeting the Red Sea resort of Eilat. There were no injuries.