Sinai operation continues
The results of the military operation conducted in Sinai against armed militant groups were announced earlier this week, writes Amirah Ibrahim
Nearly six weeks have passed, and the truth behind the killing of 16 Egyptian soldiers while they were on duty at an eastern border crossing near Rafah in Sinai remains unclear.
However, on Saturday the Defence Ministry held a press conference to present details of the military operation subsequently conducted in Sinai at its Moral Affairs Department, the first since the terrorist attack took place early in August.
During the conference, it was decided that the Moral Affairs Department will no longer be in charge of communication with the media, owing to its poor performance in dealing with media questions about the terrorist attack in Rafah.
The media has not been able to discover the truth about the attack, nor cover the military operations launched since then against armed groups in Sinai.
During the conference, Brigadier Ahmed Ali, an official spokesman for the Armed Forces, told reporters that the military operation being carried out against the armed groups had a new code name, "Sinai" instead of "Eagle".
"Assigning a military spokesman will put an end to the release of inaccurate news reports about the military and Armed Forces, which have negatively affected the army," Ali said.
Ali's presence was welcomed by the reporters, longing for proper coverage of military news. However, hopes were dashed when Ali failed to give precise answers to questions about the identity of the attackers and who had been behind the attacks.
Reporters at the conference also wanted to know the causalities suffered by the army over the month of military confrontations, but these questions remained unanswered.
The military spokesman did not say who should bear the responsibility for the killing of the 16 soldiers, and he gave no clear answer to the question of when the operation in Sinai would be accomplished.
"When making plans for the Sinai operation, we took into consideration several factors: the human rights of the Sinai inhabitants; the geographic nature of the mountainous areas, which require certain military equipment and tactics; and the special social structure of the people there," Ali said.
Of the Sinai operations themselves, Ali said that "the operation so far consists of two phases. The first, which took place from 8 to 30 August, aimed at ending the deteriorating security situation in the wake of the violent attack in Rafah by reestablishing stable conditions and securing vital targets."
Egypt enjoys full sovereignty over every inch of Sinai, Ali said, denying reports about the army's inability to move forward in Sinai without getting permission from the Israeli government first.
"The Sinai operation is part of a comprehensive operation that aims at restoring security to the Sinai Peninsula in preparation for a major development project scheduled to be implemented there, for which the government has allocated the sum of LE650 million," he said.
According to Ali, phase one of the operation had included deploying troops on both the east and west banks of the Suez Canal and in Zone A, B and C of Sinai. A number of military missions had been carried out in these zones to secure border points and vital targets in Arish, Sheikh Zuwaid and Rafah. During phase one, the army had destroyed 31 underground tunnels used for smuggling goods and weapons and for illegal immigration, he said.
"The situation of the underground tunnels is complicated," Ali said. "Their number according to official figures is estimated at more than 225, but considering the construction of the tunnels, with each one having two or three exits on each side, there may be as many as 550 to 700."
"It is difficult to define where a tunnel begins. It could begin in a kitchen, a bathroom, a school or even a closet," he said.
Ali said that 31 militants had been killed, one injured, and 38 arrested in the operation, but he declined to clarify whether non-Egyptians had taken part in the attack on the Egyptian army.
"This is the responsibility of the judiciary, not the army. Our mission is to confront, control, impose security, arrest suspected elements and take them to the investigative bodies concerned, which then take the necessary legal procedures against them," Ali said.
The Sinai operation had been a success, he said, and the killing of 31 militants and arrest of 39 suggested that there were around 400 to 600 militants in Sinai.
Ali repeated that the operation had been coordinated by the Egyptian and Israeli committees assigned to monitor security issues under the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. "It was also monitored by UN and Multinational Force and Observers troops in Sinai," he said.
The second phase of the operation was continuing, Ali said, denying that there had been a withdrawal of the army's equipment from the peninsula. "We sent 10 loads of heavy military equipment to Rafah on Saturday and four to Arish," he said.