Egypt has begun a sweeping military operation against the militants active in violence-torn North Sinai Province in the extreme northwest and the nearby Nile Delta.
The army announced the launch of ‘Operation Sinai 2018’ on Friday, putting the police and military forces on “maximum alert,” AFP reported.
The goal is to tighten control of border districts and “clean up areas where there are terrorist hotbeds,” it added.
The campaign involves the air force, navy and army as well as police, he said.
“The armed forces calls upon the Egyptian people in all parts of the country to closely cooperate with law enforcement forces to confront terrorism, uproot it and immediately report any elements threatening the security and stability of the country,” the military spokesman, Colonel Tamer al-Rifai, said in a televised address.
Last week, The New York Times reported that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had kept northern Sinai a closed military area, barring reporters from the region.
The Associated Press has reported that the Egyptian army was bulldozing homes and olive groves to build “a buffer zone” around North Sinai Province’s only airport in the city of el-Arish.
The report said the buffer zone will destroy dozens of hamlets around the airport, forcing thousands of people to leave their homes for an unknown future, sparking some protest by residents despite the government promises of compensation.
Sisi, who is preparing to seek a second term in the upcoming March elections, has vowed that the army will employ “absolute force” in a bid to eliminate terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula.
President Sisi has announced three days of national mourning.
The Sinai Peninsula has been under a state of emergency since October 2014, after a deadly terrorist attack left 33 Egyptian soldiers dead.
Over the past few years, terrorists have been carrying out anti-government activities and fatal attacks, taking advantage of the turmoil in Egypt that erupted after the country’s first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted in a military coup in July 2013.
The Velayat Sinai group, which is affiliated with the Daesh Takfiri terrorists, has claimed responsibility for most of the assaults.