The Egyptian military claimed Wednesday to have killed more than 500 jihadi terrorists over the previous 16 days, as it gears up for the second phase of an intensive counter-terrorism operation in the restive eastern Sinai Peninsula.
Scores more terror suspects were also arrested during the operations.
According to the state-controlled Al Ahram, the first 16-day phase of “Operation Martyr’s Right” achieved all of its primary objectives, including “destroying terrorist hideouts and artillery storage facilities.”
“This operation reflected the cohesion between the army, police and the people of Sinai – as well as the unprecedented welcoming [of the people of Sinai] of joint cooperation to control the security situation and to regain their rights of security and stability,” the army said in a statement.
The operation also extended to parts of western Egypt where armed Islamist groups have gained a foothold.
On Monday, soldiers killed 10 terrorists in the Bahariya Oasis. Authorities say they were planning attacks against tourists and other “foreign interests” during the festival of Eid al-Adha, which began Wednesday.
The second stage of the operation will be aimed at restoring order and the rule of Egypt’s central government to Sinai, which has been almost entirely ungoverned since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The operation was launched to flush out terrorists from the so-called “Sinai Province” of the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group, which has carried out a series of deadly attacks against Egyptian civilians and security forces in the region.
Egypt and Israel both allege the jihadists are being aided by Islamist terrorist groups in neighboring Gaza – including Hamas. As part of the operation Egyptian security forces have begun flooding tunnels dug buy Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups from Gaza into Sinai, to prevent the movement of terrorists and weapons between the two territories.
Egypt has launched several military operations in Sinai to put down a years-long Islamist insurgency, which escalated after the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. However despite previous similar declarations of victory the insurgency has raged on.