EXCLUSIVE – At least 30 soldiers killed in ongoing clashes with militants in Egypt’s Sinai

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SHAFAQNA  - At least 30 Egyptian policemen and soldiers have been killed and 30 wounded in ongoing clashes with IS-affiliated militants in North Sinai on Wednesday, an official source said, marking the first major attack in the restive peninsula in five months.

The security source, who preferred to remain anonymous until an official statement is issued, said 38 armed men have also been killed in the clashes that continue in the city of Sheikh Zuweid, according to Ahram’s Arabic news website.

Islamic State-affiliated Sinai Province, previously known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, has claimed responsibility for the attacks in a statement.

The IS group said that its allies had mounted 15 simultaneous attacks on military sites, including “martyrdom operations” on Al-Arish’s officers club and two checkpoints in Sheikh Zuweid.

Eleven checkpoints and a police station in Sheikh Zuweid were raided by militants using missiles, the statement added.

Al-Ahram’s correspondent in North Sinai reported that a local woman and her 15-year-old daughter have been killed, and five people from a single family injured in the on-going clashes.

Another security source said militants have occupied the rooftops of houses in Sheikh Zuweid after forcing the occupants to flee.

Militants have planted IEDs on local highways to hinder the advance of Egyptian troops, he added.

On Wednesday morning, around 70 militants fired mortar rounds and used a car bomb in separate attacks on five checkpoints in the town of Sheikh Zuweid, according to security sources.

“Egyptian armed forces returned fire, killing at least 22 terrorists and destroying three vehicles armed with anti-craft missiles,” army spokesman Brigadier-General Mohamed Samir said in a statement.

There is currently a power cut in Sheikh Zuweid and local residents are staying in their houses due to the on-going fighting between militants and security forces, according to eye witnesses.

Major attack

This is the second major attack of its kind against security forces in North Sinai this year.

In January, Ansar Beit Maqdis (aka Sinai Province) launched a series of attacks on checkpoints in Al-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid that killed 44 soldiers and police personnel.

This is the third year in a row that a major militant attack has taken place in the Muslims’ holy month of Ramadan.

Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis declared allegiance to Islamic State in 2014. It was designated a terrorist organisation in Egypt in the same year. The group has claimed most of the attacks launched against Egyptian security forces over the past four years.

The northern part of Egypt’s border Sinai Peninsula has been a bastion of an Islamist insurgency that has spiked since the 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and a crackdown on his supporters. Militants have mainly targeted police and troops in deadly attacks that have killed  hundreds, including civilians, over the past two years.

On Tuesday, gunmen shot dead an Egyptian policeman outside a museum in southern Cairo and three suspected militants were killed in a car explosion in a suburb of the capital.

On Monday, Egypt’s top public prosecutor was assassinated when a car bomb struck his convoy in Cairo, the highest-ranking state official to be killed since Morsi’s removal.

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