Egypt’s Armed Forces announced early Friday morning that it has launched a “comprehensive” military operation in Sinai that aims to “end terrorism” in north and central parts of the peninsula.
The operation will “combat other crimes that affect Egypt’s internal security and stability,” according to Armed Forces spokesperson Tamer al-Rifai, who also urged citizens to cooperate with security forces and report “anything which may threaten the nation’s security and stability.”
In a second communiqué issued at midday on Friday, Rifai stated that the Egyptian Air Force had conducted airstrikes on militant ammunition storehouses in North Sinai and the center of the peninsula, while the military had tightened navy and border guard security protocols and secured “vital locations.”
A source at the Interior Ministry told the Middle East News Agency that the body had raised the national alert level to “maximum security” in all governorates and reinforced security of key facilities. According to the source, the Interior Minister has also carried out patrols of river islands and remote areas to destroy terrorist hideouts and has intensified the presence of security checkpoints within governorates and on travel roads.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi followed the Armed Forces’s first two communiqués with an endorsement of the campaign on his Twitter account.
“With pride, I am following the heroism of my sons in the Armed Forces and police in purging Egypt’s valuable land from terrorist elements, who are the enemies of life,” Sisi wrote.
In a statement issued on Friday, State Information Service, a body affiliated with the Egyptian presidency, requested that foreign media adhere to the statements of the military and police in their coverage of the operation, saying they should refrain from reporting news obtained from other “sources” or ministries.
Medical sources told Mada Masr on Wednesday that the military had requested the urgent deployment of medical reinforcements to the Sinai peninsula and the neighboring Ismailia governorate, as hospitals implement emergency measures following an increase in military presence in the area. Sources told Mada Masr that a large number of medical staff in Arish were called in and other doctors were recently assigned to compulsory postings across Sinai. The doctors come from several governorates, including Cairo, Giza and Gharbeya, and were told their postings will last between one and three months.
Following the Rawda mosque attack in November of last year, Sisi gave Armed Forces Chief of Staff Mohamed Farid Hegazy and Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar a three-month window to secure Sinai and eliminate militant groups in the area. In what was the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s recent history, armed militants attacked the Belal Mosque in the village of Rawda in North Sinai during Friday prayers, killing over 300 civilians.
Citizens in the north and central cities of the peninsula reported the deployment of military vehicles and equipment last month, which some interpreted as a sign that a major operation was underway.
The Rafah crossing connecting Sinai to Gaza was closed as the operation began on Friday, according to Palestinian media outlets. Egyptian authorities had made a sudden decision to open the crossing last Wednesday and had notified the Palestinian Embassy in Cairo that it would be open until Friday evening.
Dar al-Ifta, Egypt’s official religious institution that is responsible for drafting Islamic edicts, called on Friday afternoon for citizens to support the military and police at the outset of the major security operation. Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church issued a similar statement shortly after, echoing its solidarity with the Armed Forces.