Egypt launches ‘major operation’ in Sinai 

Army moves into Nile Delta and northern Sinai to confront ‘terrorist elements’, days after gearing up hospitals to expect influx of casualties

The Egyptian army announced on Friday it had launched a major operation against “terrorists” in the Nile Delta and the northern Sinai Peninsula, the heart of a persistent Islamic State group insurgency.

Police and troops have been put on “maximum alert” for the duration of the operation, the army said in a statement.

“The law enforcement forces began this morning implementing the comprehensive confrontation against the terrorist and criminal elements and organisations in northern and central Sinai,” an army spokesman said in a televised statement.

The spokesman said the operation would tighten control of the country’s crossing points with neighboring countries.

Residents reported hearing extensive air activities above the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, which is close to the area of operations in northern and central Sinai.

It comes a day after Middle East Eye reported that areas around Sinai had been placed on alert and the government had called for the urgent deployment of medical resources to Sinai and the eastern port city of Ismailia.

The calls came amid an increase in military presence in the area and after Egypt imposed on 12 January a curfew on parts of the North Sinai region, including areas near the border town of Rafah.

Egypt had extended its state of emergency for three months in January to help tackle “the dangers and funding of terrorism”.

In a 10-point letter – circulated through social media – the ministry of health requested that hospitals across Ismailia take a series of emergency measures including doubling the number of doctors on shift and ensuring that extra medication and blood bags are available.

The letter also called on hospitals to empty 30 percent of beds in intensive care and orthopedics wards, and cancel all holidays for staff including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and technicians.

‘Something is going to happen’

The announcement comes after a large number of doctors were recently assigned to compulsory postings across Sinai after they were reportedly told by the ministry of health that: “Something is going to happen in the area in the next few days,” reported Mada Masr on Wednesday.

According to the paper, the North Sinai Security Directorate recently recalled all staff members from holiday to ensure that it was operating at its full capacity, while the Arish general hospital recalled all staff who were on vacation and announced a state of emergency on Wednesday.

In a similar fashion, the Arish ambulance service announced it was on alert and instructed all of the paramedics, drivers and medical personnel who had been on a 15-day break since 1 February to return to work, reported the paper.

Egypt’s security forces have for years been battling the Islamic State (IS) group in North Sinai. IS attacks have killed hundreds of soldiers and police and has also included civilian targets.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gave the armed forces three months to end “terrorism” after militants killed more than 350 people at a mosque in North Sinai in November.

Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that for more than two years, unmarked Israeli drones, helicopters and jets have carried out a covert air campaign, conducting more than 100 air strikes inside Egypt with Sisi’s approval.

While Israeli intervention has helped the Egyptian military regain its footing in its battle against militants in the North Sinai, the strikes have bolstered the security of Israel’s borders, reported the paper.