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Sinai: What is happening and why

The Sinai operation comes amid preparations to hold Egypt’s presidential election next week.

Four soldiers have been killed in the Sinai Peninsula as part of an ongoing military operation against ISIL fighters in the region, according to the Egyptian military on Monday.

Here is what's happening - and why:

What is happening?

  • Insurgency: Security operations against insurgents in Sinai have been ongoing since 2000, but the insurgency picked up moment after the military coup in 2013.
  • In late 2014, Egypt declared a state of emergency in the region while Sinai's most active armed group pledged its allegiance to ISIL.
  • The state of emergency was declared in the region
  • 2018 campaign: A major operation was launched on Friday with Egyptian ground, air and naval forces along with border guards and police on the hunt.
  • The army ordered hospitals to be placed on high alert, preparing extra beds and personnel, to deal with emergencies and medical evacuations.
  • Demolitions: Schools and dozens of homes have been demolished, using heavy weapons and arms machinery that range from howitzers, fighter jets, tanks and attack helicopters.
  • Amnesty International also reported the use of cluster bombs in its operations.
  • Israeli warplanes have also carried out covert air strikes in Sinai in coordination with Egypt, the New York Times reported.
  • Communication: Egypt's military operations have reportedly also targeted mobile phone signals in the region, and even jammed reception in the neighboring Gaza Strip and in Israel.
  • An Egyptian official said "obviously, we want to stop terrorists from communicating".


The following casualties are based on military statements by the Egyptian army.

  • Troops: 22 Egyptian soldiers have been killed since the beginning of the military operation in Sinai on February 9.
  • According to the latest military statement on March 19, "an officer and three conscripts were killed", while eight troops, including three army officers, were injured.
  • Insurgents: 36 fighers killed in clashes with the military in the North Sinai city of Arish in the past five days.
  • Detentions: More than 3,100 people have been detained so far, of which 345 in the past five days.

Why Sinai

  • Attacks: Some armed groups in Sinai have reportedly claimed responsibility for a series of attacks that have killed hundreds in Egypt. 
  • The official statement announcing the military operation said the operations are a "confrontation against the terrorist and criminal elements" and intend to "tighten control of the ports of the Egyptian state."
  • Elections: "I think this has to do a lot with the forthcoming presidential election," Middle East security expert Omar Ashour said.
  • "When the coup happened in 2013, you saw an escalation. The whole idea of the coup and that operation was that security and anti-terrorism measures needed to be implemented, partly in Sinai but also elsewhere, " Ashour said.
  • Greater Gaza: Others read into an Israeli proposal to create a Palestinian state in Gaza and Northern Sinai, where millions of Palestinian refugees could potentially end up.
  • Israeli media reports in 2014 suggested that Sisi may have agreed to cede 1,600sq km in Sinai to Gaza, expanding the enclave's size fivefold.

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