EL ARISH: The Egyptian military said it has killed at least 19 militants in raids and air strikes against an Islamic insurgency in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, in clashes that also left at least five casualties among its troops.

Col. Tamer el-Rifai said in his statement late on Saturday that the raids and air strikes took place last week in the towns of Bir al-Abed, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid. He said forces dismantled at least five explosive devices and destroyed two four-wheel drive vehicles and a storehouse. The military statement did not specify the number of soldiers killed.

Other officials however said two officers, including a colonel and a lieutenant, and three conscript soldiers were killed when an explosive device hit their vehicle Saturday while taking part in a campaign against the militants in central Sinai.

The officials spoke in condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorised to brief the media.

Other details about the incident could not be independently corroborated as Egyptian authorities heavily restrict access to that part of Sinai.

The Sinai affiliate of the militant Islamic State group on Sunday claimed responsibility for the attack.

For over a decade, Egypt has been fighting the Islamic militants and struggling to re-establish control over the restive border region.

The insurgency in Sinai intensified after the military’s 2013 ouster of Mohammed Morsi, a freely elected but divisive president. Morsi was toppled amid mass protests against him, a year after he took office.

Most extremist attacks have occurred in marginalised northern Sinai, but militants have also struck at police officers, troops and other high-profile targets in the mainland.

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2020