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Twenty-six Egyptian soldiers, including senior commander killed in Sinai

Jihadists have killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers in attacks in North Sinai [AFP]

Date of publication: 7 July, 2017

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At least 26 Egyptian soldiers were killed or wounded on Friday in attacks targeting checkpoints in the Sinai Peninsula, the military said.

Twenty-six Egyptian soldiers were killed including a senior commander on Friday in attacks on checkpoints in the Sinai Peninsula where the Islamic State group is conducting an insurgency, the military said.

Among those killed in the attack - the deadliest on the country's military this year - were five officers, including a high-ranking special forces colonel, Ahmed el-Mansi, according to security officials.

Among those killed in the attack - the deadliest on the country's military this year - were five officers, including a high-ranking special forces colonel, Ahmed el-Mansi, according to security officials.

The military said it killed 40 assailants as it clashed with extremists in North Sinai, the main focus of the deadly IS insurgency.

The assault started when a suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into a checkpoint at a military compound in the village of el-Barth, southwest of the border town of Rafah, followed by heavy gunfire from dozens of masked militants on foot, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

As the attack unfolded, ambulance sirens were heard from a distance rushing to the site. The officials initially put the death toll at 10 but later said that more bodies were pulled from under the rubble of a nearby building, used as a rest house for troops, that was destroyed in the attack.

The militants arrived at the site of the checkpoint - located in a remote, desert area - in some 24 Land Cruiser SUVs, and opened fire on the soldiers with machine guns for nearly half an hour, the officials said. The troop presence at the compound is estimated to have numbered about 60 soldiers.

After the attack, the militants looted the checkpoint, taking away weapons and ammunition before fleeing the scene, the officials added. It was unclear if they also took armored vehicles as well.

The next army compound is located an hour's drive away, leaving the targeted site with no support except for local, armed tribesmen from the Tarabeen, who have their own small checkpoints nearby.

The assault started when a suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into a checkpoint at a military compound in the village of el-Barth, southwest of the border town of Rafah, followed by heavy gunfire from dozens of masked militants on foot, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

As the attack unfolded, ambulance sirens were heard from a distance rushing to the site.

The officials initially put the death toll at 10 but later said that more bodies were pulled from under the rubble of a nearby building, used as a rest house for troops, that was destroyed in the attack. The militants arrived at the site of the checkpoint - located in a remote, desert area - in some 24 Land Cruiser SUVs, and opened fire on the soldiers with machine guns for nearly half an hour, the officials said.

The troop presence at the compound is estimated to have numbered about 60 soldiers.

After the attack, the militants looted the checkpoint, taking away weapons and ammunition before fleeing the scene, the officials added. It was unclear if they also took armored vehicles as well.

After the attack, the militants looted the checkpoint, taking away weapons and ammunition before fleeing the scene, the officials added. It was unclear if they also took armored vehicles as well.

The next army compound is located an hour's drive away, leaving the targeted site with no support except for local, armed tribesmen from the Tarabeen, who have their own small checkpoints nearby.

Security officials said ambulances raced to the sites of the attacks south of the town of Rafah on the border with the Gaza Strip.

Jihadists have killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers in attacks in North Sinai since the military toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and launched a deadly crackdown on his supporters.

IS has also attacked tourists, killing all 224 on board a Russian plane carrying holidaymakers in 2015, as well as Christian churches elsewhere in Egypt.

The jihadists in the Sinai pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in late 2014, establishing the self styled "Sinai Province" in the peninsula, which borders Israel as well as Gaza.

Unlike the main organisation in Syria and Iraq, they have been unable to seize population centres, with one attempt to occupy a town in 2015 ending with the military unleashing F-16 jets against the jihadists.

Instead the group has tried to keep up a steady war of attrition involving roadside bombings, sniper fire and checkpoint attacks such as the ones on Friday.

The jihadists are increasingly encircled in the peninsula, with the military razing sections of Rafah to create a buffer zone with the Gaza Strip and destroying tunnels connecting with the Palestinian territory.

But that has not prevented them from establishing cells elsewhere in Egypt that launched a series of attacks on Christians that have killed dozens since December, when a suicide bomber targeted a Cairo church.

That attack was followed by two church bombings in April that killed at least 45 people and a massacre of Christians heading on a bus to a monastery in May.

The April attacks prompted President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to declare a nationwide state of emergency like that already in force in North Sinai.

Sisi, who as army chief toppled Morsi, has pledged to defeat the jihadists.

The military has killed several of their commanders, including their top leader Abu Duaa al-Ansari in 2016.

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