Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Dozens Killed As ISIS-Linked Group Claims Massive Sinai Assault, Fighting Still Underway

Dozens said killed as IS-linked group claims massive Sinai assault | The Times of Israel

Islamic militants staged simultaneous attacks, including a suicide car bombing, on army checkpoints in northern Sinai, killing at least 30 soldiers Wednesday morning, Egyptian security and military officials said.

The officials said Wednesday’s attack took place just south of the town of Sheikh Zuweid and targeted several military checkpoints.

At least 40 other soldiers were wounded, said the officials.
The Islamic State-linked Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis terror group reportedly took responsibility for the attacks, as heavy fighting still raged in Sheikh Zuweid, where militants were besieging the town’s main police station, according to reports.

Egypt’s military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Samir, said fighting was still underway in the area between the armed forces and the militants.
Samir’s statement put the number of soldiers killed so far at 10, but the conflicting numbers could not immediately be reconciled in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
 A reporter for Sky News Arabia put the Egyptian army death toll as high as 60.

Samir’s statement, posted on his official Facebook page, said some 70 militants attacked five checkpoints in northern Sinai and that Egyptian troops killed 22 of them and destroyed three all-terrain vehicles fitted with antiaircraft guns.

The officials said the attackers on Wednesday used mortars, rocket propelled grenades as well as assault rifles. Two of the checkpoints, which were apparently located in close proximity, were completely destroyed.
The attacks come just two days after the assassination in Cairo of the country’s top prosecutor Hisham Barakat. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi vowed on Tuesday to step up a two-year crackdown on militants.

Israel closed the Niztana and Kerem Shalom border crossings Wednesday following militant attacks in Egypt's North Sinai that killed at least 50 in one of the biggest coordinated assaults yet in the insurgency-hit province.

Islamic State's Egypt affiliate, Sinai Province, claimed responsibility for the attacks against security forces in North Sinai, according to a statement on Twitter. The group said it had attacked more than 15 security sites, and had carried out three suicide attacks.

The IDF was closely monitoring the border area with Egypt and Gaza in light of the events.

It was second high-profile action in Egypt this week. On Monday, the prosecutor-general was killed in a car bombing in Cairo, raising questions about the government's ability to contain the insurgency.

The army said five checkpoints were attacked by about 70 militants and that soldiers had destroyed three land-cruisers fitted with anti-aircraft guns.

Security sources said militants were surrounding a police station in the town of Sheikh Zuweid and had planted bombs around it to prevent forces from leaving.

Doctor Osama el-Sayed of El-Arish General Hospital in the provincial capital said 30 bodies had been brought in, "some of whom were wearing army fatigues".

The insurgency based in the Sinai is seeking to topple the Cairo government and has managed to defy one of the toughest security crackdowns in Egypt's history.

It has intensified since 2013, when then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi removed President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist, after mass protests against his rule. Hundreds of policemen and soldiers have been killed in attacks since then.

The most active militant group in the region is Sinai Province, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

In a recent tactic, Sinai Province has fired rockets at the direction of an airport used by multinational peacekeeping forces.
The army has taken several measures to crush the insurgency. Aside from bombardments in the region, they have destroyed tunnels into the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip and created a security buffer zone in northern Sinai.

The army was also digging a trench along the border with Gaza in an effort to prevent smuggling.

President Sisi said he would bring in tougher legal measures in coming days after the killing of the prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, the most senior Egyptian official to die in such an attack in years.

Sisi's government does not distinguish between the now-outlawed Brotherhood and other militants. 

The Islamic State terror group has threatened to “uproot the state of the Jews” and pursue “Hamas dictators” in Gaza.

In a new video published Tuesday, IS accused the Islamist Hamas of being soft in enforcing religious law in the Palestinian enclave it controls.

“We will uproot the state of the Jews [Israel] and you [Hamas] and Fatah [in the West Bank], and all of the secularists are nothing and you will be overrun by our creeping multitudes,” a masked Islamic State member said in the recorded message addressed to the “tyrants of Hamas.”
The rule of Sharia [Islamic law] will be implemented in Gaza, in spite of you. We swear that what is happening in the Levant today, and in particular the Yarmouk camp [in Syria], will happen in Gaza,” he said, in reference to the besieged Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus.
“There is cooperation between them in the realm of weapons smuggling and terrorist attacks. The Egyptians know this, and the Saudis,” Katz said.
“At the same time, within Gaza, ISIS (Islamic State) has been flouting Hamas. But they have common cause against the Jews, in Israel or abroad,’ he was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The Islamic State was also planning attacks across the world to mark the month of Ramadan and the anniversary of the so-called “caliphate,” according to a report by the Institute of the Study of War, cited in the UK’s Daily Mail.

The report claimed that IS would move to consolidate its power in territories it already control in Iraq and Syria and move on taking additional regions. In Egypt and Yemen, IS was likely to take advantage of unrest to recruit “amongst the local population while launching large explosive attacks on security forces.”

“ISIS’s affiliates may attempt to administer governance or claim territorial control within the Sinai and Afghanistan, both as a means of proclaiming caliphate expansion and as a way to prepare for future military operations.” the report said.

Israel’s domestic security service said Wednesday it had revealed and arrested members of a 40-person Hamas cell in the Nablus region of the West Bank, foiling an attack still in the planning stage and breaking apart a community-wide infrastructure.

The arrests, conducted over the past months, were made public amid a rise in terror attacks against Israelis in the West Bank and corresponding calls from settlers to increase the Israeli army’s preventative actions in the region.

Over the past 10 days there have been four shootings and two stabbings, claiming the lives of Israelis Danny Gonen and Malachi Rosenfeld and wounding several more.

The Shin Bet said the Nablus cells were run from Qatar, by Hussam Badran, a Hamas spokesperson and a native of Nablus.
Budran, operating under Saleh al-Arouri, the Turkey-based head of Hamas operations in the West Bank, sent messages to the operatives in Nablus via “email channels,” the Shin Bet said, apparently referring to non-direct messages, and laundered the money into gold jewelry transported into the West Bank from Jordan.

Since last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, Hamas has made great efforts to rebuild its military capacities in preparation for the next round of violence with Israel, according to the head of Israel’s internal secret service.

At a briefing before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen said Hamas has been working to reestablish its offensive tunnels, develop and produce new rockets, and increase training for its naval and ground forces. Hamas has also been trying to acquire funding from Iran, he added, in light of the economic hardships brought on by the 50-day conflict.

At this time, he said, Hamas has little interest in launching a war against Israel and, while it could wage a significant military campaign, it would be limited in its efficacy
Hamas was also finding itself in strategic distress in Gaza and its status as the sovereign power in the Palestinian enclave has been eroded, Cohen asserted.
Earlier this week, Hamas said it built a “new tunnel” that crosses into Israeli territory. The attack tunnel is said to be 3.5 kilometers long and will be used in the “next round” of violence with Israel, Hamas told an Iranian TV channel.

Regarding the recent uptick in violent attacks, Cohen noted that there has been a steady rise in what he termed folk terror and “lone wolf” attacks. Since 2012 there has been a 50 percent rise each year, from 683 attacks in 2012 to 1,834 in 2014, he revealed.

Over the past year, 130 organized terror plots were foiled, he said, with an additional 60 plots over the course of the first half of 2015.
More recently, the IDF was on particularly high alert due to Ramadan, which usually ushers in a spike in violent incidents.
On Monday night, a man was killed after a car he was traveling in with three friends was shot up by a Palestinian gunman in the West Bank.
Earlier that day, a female IDF soldier was stabbed at a checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Her female attacker was detained and questioned at the site of the attack.
On Friday a Palestinian assailant was shot and killed by IDF soldiers after he opened fire on Israeli troops at a checkpoint in the West Bank. No soldiers were injured in the attack.
Last Sunday a Palestinian man stabbed and seriously injured an Israeli Border Police officer outside Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate. The assailant was shot and captured.

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