Egypt begins Sinai withdrawal
Published Thursday, August 30, 2012
Egypt began withdrawing some troops from the Sinai Thursday after stepping up armor in the territory to combat Islamist militants it said were behind a deadly attack targeting security forces.
Security sources told Ma'an that 11 Egyptian tanks departed the Sinai en route to Beit al-Abid. The withdrawal followed a purported arrangement with the militants to cease hostilities, they said.
But the Middle East News Agency reported that forces would continue the "Eagle" military operation to capture "terrorists" in the Sinai and deploy soldiers to root out their bases in the region.
The tanks' departure came only one day after Egypt's military said it would broaden its offensive against militants in the Sinai Peninsula, a campaign that has raised concerns in Israel about the buildup.
After militants attacked and killed 16 border guards on August 5, Egypt launched an operation using the army and police to raid militant hideouts, arrest suspects and seize weapons, including rockets and other arms, that are rife in the area.
Disorder has spread in Sinai since President Hosni Mubarak's overthrow last year. Analysts say Islamists with possible links to Al-Qaida have gained a foothold.
Israel has voiced concern over the Egyptian military buildup on its southern border. Earlier Thursday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he wanted to see the Egyptian army removed from the peninsula once the operation was over.
"They must act against terror and if they have to bring in troops, let them do so. And when it ends, they must take them out," Barak said in an interview with Israel's army radio.
He said Israel had "several reservations" over Egypt's deployment of reinforcements in the lawless peninsula, some of which he said fall outside the terms of the 1979 peace treaty which limits the number of Egyptian troops there."
Last week, an Israeli newspaper said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had sent sent a sharply-worded message to Cairo via Washington calling for the immediate removal of Egyptian tanks deployed in northern Sinai.
He also demanded that Egypt stop bringing troops into the peninsula without prior coordination with Israel, which constituted a "serious breach of the peace agreement," a high-ranking Israeli source told the paper.
Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi said Monday in his first interview with international media that Egypt was committed to all treaties and, without naming Israel, said no other states should worry about its actions in Sinai.
"As of the morning of Aug. 29, in continuation of the military operation, there will be a redeployment of forces in various locations in Sinai to complete the hunt for terrorist elements," the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
(Ma'an, Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)