Islamists Attack Sinai Peninsula Checkpoint

Aug 6, 2012
Originally published on August 12, 2012 9:41 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And we're also following news from the Middle East, particularly from Egypt. In the Sinai Desert that borders Israel, masked gunmen attacked Egyptian soldiers there. At least 15 soldiers are dead. Security has deteriorated sharply in that area since longtime President Hosni Mubarak's ouster last year.

NPR'S Leila Fadel has the story.

PRESIDENT MOHAMED MORSI: (Foreign language spoken)

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: That's Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi, vowing to avenge the men killed at a checkpoint near the Egyptian-Israeli border on Sunday. The gunmen, armed with explosives and automatic rifles, attacked the outpost, then commandeered two armored vehicles and tried to cross into Israel. One vehicle exploded trying to get through the border crossing. The other was attacked by an Israeli aircraft. Israeli military officials say they knew an attack was imminent. They say they killed five of the gunmen and recovered their bodies, as well as explosives, weapons and ammunition.

In Gaza, Hamas was quick to condemn the attack. It was unclear who the assailants were. Sinai has long been relatively lawless.

Ahmed Abu Deraa, an Egyptian journalist who sometimes contributes to NPR, was at the scene on Sunday.

AHMED ABU DERAA: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: He says that violence is on the rise, with periodic attacks on gas pipelines and police. He says the Islamist militants in Sinai appear to want to rid the area of all security forces.

The peace treaty with Israel limits the number of Egyptian security forces allowed on the border with Israel. And military analysts say without amending the treaty, Egypt's security forces are simply outgunned. Adding to the violence is the increase of weapons being smuggled in from Libya, from small arms to rockets. In the last two months, two separate Islamist groups released videos claiming attacks in June and July - one that killed an Israeli, and another that killed two Egyptian conscripts.

Rafah is now surrounded by Egyptian armed forces, and the crossing is closed indefinitely.

Leila Fadel, NPR NEWS, CAIRO. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.