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Six dead as Egypt army presses Sinai drive: witnesses

The Egyptian military sent more tanks and armoured vehicles to Sinai in an unprecedented campaign to capture or kill Islamic militants behind an attack on an army outpost that killed 16 soldiers on in early August.

Army trucks carry Egyptian military tanks in El Arish, Egypt's northern Sinai Peninsula, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012
Army trucks carry Egyptian military tanks in El Arish, Egypt's northern Sinai Peninsula, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012
Image: STR/AP/Press Association Images

EGYPTIAN SECURITY FORCES killed six gunmen in a raid on a village of North Sinai on Sunday, witnesses said, as the military pressed a campaign against Islamists in the lawless peninsula neighbouring Gaza and Israel.

Security officials said they found chemicals used to make explosives, rocket-propelled grenades and machineguns with the militants in El-Jurah village. One of the gunmen was seriously wounded, security officials said.

The bodies of three gunmen were charred in a fire that broke out during an exchange of gunfire. The cause of the blaze was unclear but witnesses said they did not see any air strikes.

“The security forces raided a small house in the village, and there was an exchange of gunfire,” said one witness, who requested anonymity.

“They killed six people and left the bodies, and came back with ambulances and a fire truck to retrieve them,” he said.

Another witness, who described the gunmen as “strangers” to the village, said the six men were killed when security forces entered a home they were hiding in. “They died in an exchange of fire,” he said.

Witnesses said no troops appeared to have been killed in the raid.

Earlier, three soldiers died in a road accident elsewhere in the peninsula as troops fanned out to secure checkpoints and massed near the borders with the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Overnight, gunmen traded fire with security forces at a checkpoint in the town of Sheikh Zuwayid, several kilometres from El-Jurah, security officials said. No casualties were reported in the clash.

The military carried out an air strike on the village on Wednesday morning that apparently missed its target and hit the wall of a storage place for wood.

Unprecedented campaign

Sunday’s raid came as the military sent more tanks and armoured vehicles to Sinai in an unprecedented campaign to capture or kill Islamic militants behind an attack on an army outpost that killed 16 soldiers on August 5.

It claimed to have killed 20 militants in Wednesday’s air strikes, but witnesses said there were no deaths in the helicopter attacks, the first in the Sinai in decades.

On Friday, official media reported that security forces arrested six “terrorists” in the town of Sheikh Zuwayid, 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the border with Gaza.

Their relatives told AFP they were devout Muslims who had nothing to do with the attack on the soldiers, and were asleep in their homes when masked soldiers and policemen burst in to arrest them.

Some of the men, who appeared to belong to the ultra-conservative Salafi branch of Islam, had been jailed without charge under ousted president Hosni Mubarak after a spate of bombings of tourist resorts between 2004 and 2006.

The military campaign has seen the largest buildup of troops in the Sinai since Israel returned the territory under a 1979 peace treaty that restricted Egypt’s military presence on the peninsula.

The Egyptian military believes that Islamist Bedouin militants work with radical extremists in Gaza.

- © AFP, 2012

Read: Egypt: 20 die in Sinai air strikes>

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