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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

Egypt military says 26 soldiers killed or wounded in Sinai attacks

Forty militants killed in clashes after suicide attacks targeting checkpoints.

CAIRO // Twenty-six Egyptian soldiers were killed or wounded on Friday in attacks on several checkpoints in Sinai that included car bombings.

Egypt's military said it killed 40 assailants as it clashed with extremists in North Sinai, where a branch of ISIL has been waging a deadly insurgency.

The military did not give a breakdown of its own casualties, but security sources said least 10 soldiers including a colonel were killed when two vehicles detonated while passing through two checkpoints close to each other on a road outside the town of Rafah, on the border with the Gaza Strip.

No group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Militants have killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers in attacks in North Sinai since 2013, when the military removed president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood from office and launched a deadly crackdown on his supporters.

ISIL has also attacked tourists, killing all 224 on board a Russian plane carrying holidaymakers in 2015, as well as Christian churches elsewhere in Egypt.

The militants in the Sinai pledged allegiance to ISIL in late 2014, establishing the self-styled "Sinai Province" in the peninsula, which borders Israel as well as Gaza.

Unlike the main organisation in Syria and Iraq, they have been unable to seize population centres, with one attempt to occupy a town in 2015 ending with the military unleashing F-16 jets against the militants.

Instead the group has tried to keep up a steady war of attrition involving roadside bombings, sniper fire and checkpoint attacks such as the ones on Friday.

The militants are increasingly encircled in the peninsula, with the military razing sections of Rafah to create a buffer zone with the Gaza Strip and destroying tunnels connecting with the Palestinian territory.

But that has not prevented them from establishing cells elsewhere in Egypt that launched a series of attacks on Christians that have killed dozens since December, when a suicide bomber targeted a Cairo church.

That attack was followed by two church bombings in April that killed at least 45 people and a massacre of Christians travelling on a bus to a monastery in May.

The April attacks prompted president Abdel Fattah El Sisi to declare a nationwide state of emergency like that already in force in North Sinai.

Mr El Sisi, a former army chief, has pledged to defeat the militants. The military has killed several of their commanders, including their top leader Abu Duaa Al Ansari in 2016.