Egyptian army units have "completely surrounded" the city of Rafah (on the Egyptian
side of the border with Gaza) as part of the effort to apprehend suspects in the terror attack
that killed 16 Egyptian policemen and injured about seven others Sunday evening, the Al-Ahram news outlet quoted a security official as saying.
In a report published on Al-Ahram's online edition Monday morning, the security source is quoted as saying that Egyptian army helicopters, accompanied by ground forces, have launched a manhunt for the suspects in the deadly attack on an Egyptian police station in the northern Sinai Peninsula,
near the border with Israel.
The forces have surrounded Rafah to prevent the suspects from escaping, the report said.
The gunmen reportedly took control of two Egyptian armored vehicles using RPG missiles and explosives. One of the vehicles exploded near the Kerem Shalom
border crossing, while the other one managed to infiltrate into Israel. The gunmen fired tank shells toward Israeli forces stationed at the border, but Israeli aircrafts managed to hit the armored vehicle.
The bodies of four terrorists were found on the Israeli side and three others were found on the Egyptian side. The terrorists were apparently members of global jihad.
Watch: Armored vehicle on fire (Video: IDF)
Following the attack, newly-elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi
called an urgent meeting with military and security officials, his spokesman said.
The Islamist president said those behind the "cowardly" attack will pay dearly.
"President Morsi says that this cowardly attack will not go without a response ... and that those who committed this crime will pay for it dearly," said a statement from his office.
Weapons found on terrorists who were killed (Photo: IDF)
In an interview with Egyptian state TV early Monday after the meeting, Morsi said, "There is no room for appeasing this treason, this aggression and criminality. The troops will totally control Sinai."
Egyptian media reported that the Arab country has put forces positioned along the border with Israel on the highest level of alert and has imposed a curfew in the north Sinai sector. The Rafah crossing between Sinai and Gaza
has been "closed indefinitely," according to reports.
Armored vehicle after aerial strike (Photo: IDF)
Egyptian analysts who were interviewed overnight demanded that Hamas
security forces in Gaza cooperate with Egypt in the effort to apprehend the terrorists. "If we will be forced to strike Gaza, as Israel has, we will do it – if it is proven that those who committed the attack came from Gaza," one of the military analysts said.
It remains unclear which organization orchestrated the attack, but Egyptian daily al-Youm al-Saba'a quoted a senior security official as saying it was carried out by Islamic Jihad
terrorists from Gaza and global jihad terrorists in Egypt.
The Gaza terrorists tried to escape back to the Strip following the attack but were blocked by Egyptian army forces.
Hamas denied any involvement in the attack. "Hamas has nothing to do with the border tensions," senior leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar told Ahram Online. "On the contrary, Hamas cares about Egypt's national security and would never use weapons against the Egyptian army.
"No Hamas fighter would ever go to Egypt without permission. They go there for medical treatment, not for any other purpose," he added.
said it was able to successfully thwart the attack due to intelligence and preemptive measures taken by the Shin Bet security service.
"Had it succeeded, the attack would have been very severe," an army official said. "A major disaster was averted."
The security situation in the Sinai has worsened in the wake of the uprising that forced president Hosni Mubarak
to resign in February 2011.
Under the 1979 peace agreement
between Egypt and Israel the number of Egyptian armed forces in the area has also been cut substantially.
AFP, news agencies contributed to the report