Egypt launches major anti-terror operation amid utmost security alert

Egyptian Army's Armoured Vehicles are seen on a highway to North Sinai during a launch of a major assault against militants in Ismailia

The Egyptian Army has announced on Friday the launch of a major operation against extremist militants across the country.

The military operation is meant to cover large parts of the Sinai peninsula, as well as parts of the Delta and the Western Desert, the military spokesman said.

Warplanes will bomb areas where jihadists are hiding while troops, tanks and armoured vehicles will be deployed on the ground, security sources said.

According to the statement, the police also announced the highest state of alert to implement the operation as part of efforts for rooting out terrorist elements. Since then, the Wilayat Sinai, the ISIL branch in Egypt, has claimed responsibility for a number of deadly attacks in the area.

On Palm Sunday in April 2017, suicide bombings targeting St. George's Church in Tanta and St. Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria killed at least 45 people.

In a subsequent statement, Rifaai said the air force carried out airstrikes on militant hideouts in north and central Sinai.

The Sinai Peninsula had always been demilitarised under the terms of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, but as the violence intensified the government responded by ramping up its military presence, with the tacit approval of Israel.

The airforce targeted militant hide-outs in North and Central Sinai, while the navy tightened its maritime control to cut off supply lines, al-Rifai said in a second statement. Additional troops were also brought into the North Sinai city of el-Arish and the rest of the 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.

Egyptian authorities have kept the Rafah crossing with Gaza virtually sealed since a terrorist attack in the Sinai Peninsula in October 2014, though they have temporarily reopened the crossing several times since that attack, mostly for the passage of humanitarian cases.

Egyptian security forces have so far killed hundreds of terrorists and arrested thousands of suspects during the country's anti-terror war declared by Sisi, the army chief then, following Morsi's ouster in 2013.

Sisi, who is expected to easily win another four-year term next month after several potential challengers were either hobbled or dropped out, said on Facebook he was "proudly following the heroism" of the security forces.

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