At least 31 people were killed or injured on Saturday when the Egyptian army mounted a large operation against militants in North Sinai, security officials said.
An additional 10 people were arrested, reports said. Maan noted that the operation in the towns of Sheikh Zuweyid and Rafah in northern Sinai was the largest the Egyptian military has undertaken since the Yom Kippur War.
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A security official said "dozens" of insurgent suspects were killed and wounded in the Sinai offensive, which comes two days after a failed suicide bombing targeting the country's top policeman in Cairo. Smoke could be seen rising from the towns of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweyid, and troops set up a cordon to prevent militants from escaping as others combed the area, he said.
No less than 12 targets were hit, the report said. Egyptian security officials told Maan that seven helicopters took part in an assault on buildings where gunmen were holed up. Motorbikes and other vehicles were also struck.
Eye witnesses reported many houses were on fire after the helicopter strike. Egyptian security officials said that the army had found weapons and missile caches and had even managed to cut off communications in Northern Sinai preventing the jihadists from contacting each other.
"This is by far the largest operation we have seen and the one we have been waiting for," said Sheikh Hassan Khalaf, a tribal leader from al-Joura, one of 12 targeted villages in the area. "Starting today, you will not hear of attacks on army or police checkpoints as before. They either have to flee or get arrested," he added.
He said helicopters had been hovering overhead since early morning, and had struck four cars of militants as they tried to flee. He said that at least 50 soldiers were going house-to-house through his village on foot, looking for militant suspects.
Egypt's official news agency MENA reported that a total of six military helicopters were used to strike weapons caches and militants' vehicles in seven villages, as part of what it described as a "campaign to wipe out terrorist hideouts."
The army had jammed some communications in the area, and security forces took control of two telephone exchanges in order to disrupt communications between suspected militants, it added.
The security official also said troops had arrested an unidentified number of suspected militants but others managed to escape to mountainous areas in central Sinai.
Meanwhile, Hamas -affiliated media outlets in Gaza reported that the Egyptian military destroyed six tunnels on the Sinai-Gaza border as part of an effort to create a buffer zone.
AP and Reuters contributed to this report
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