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Egypt Says 10 Soldiers and 15 Militants Are Killed in Sinai Fight

CAIRO — Ten Egyptian soldiers and 15 militants were killed during a raid on an Islamist insurgent base in the restive Sinai Peninsula, a military spokesman said Thursday.

The deaths underscored the strength of the Sinai insurgency, led by an Islamic State affiliate, despite almost four years of concerted Egyptian counterterrorism operations. In recent months Sinai militants have expanded their area of operations, targeted Christian civilians and fired rockets into Israel.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Tamer el-Refai, an Egyptian military spokesman, said the Egyptian soldiers died in two roadside blasts on Wednesday during an operation that had targeted two Islamist storehouses in the deserts of central Sinai, outside their stronghold in the north of the peninsula.

Among the soldiers killed were three officers and seven enlisted men, Mr. Refai said.

Seven militants were arrested, he said, and explosives, medical supplies, cellphones and four-wheel-drive vehicles were seized.

The death totals and other details from the operation could not be independently corroborated as most journalists, Egyptian or foreign, are prohibited from working in Sinai.

The raid came a month after a series of attacks by militants targeting minority Christians in northern Sinai forced more than 250 people to flee the area, mostly to the nearby city of Ismailia.

The sectarian violence drew sharp criticism of Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, from angry Christians and some human rights groups, who said it highlighted the military’s failure to protect citizens against kidnapping and killing. More broadly, the violence seemed to indicate the government’s wavering grip on the area.

Mr. Sisi has insisted that his forces are winning the fight. Describing the violence against Christians as “a cowardly plan by evil people,” he last month vowed to intensify counterterrorism efforts in Sinai.

Such tough talk has been praised by President Trump, who has described Mr. Sisi as a “fantastic guy” and invited him to visit the White House on April 3. It will be Mr. Sisi’s first visit since coming to power in a 2013 military takeover.

International human rights groups have accused Egyptian forces of numerous violations in Sinai, including extrajudicial killings.

On March 16, Human Rights Watch said it had evidence that Egyptian security forces might have summarily executed up to 10 men in January in what the group described as a fake counterterrorism raid meant to disguise the killings. Some of the dead had been arrested months earlier, the group said.

Describing the deaths as part of a long-running pattern of abuses against civilians in Sinai by the military and the internal security forces, Human Rights Watch called for an independent investigation.

The Egyptian military routinely denies any abuses.

The fighting in Sinai began in 2013 after the military overthrew the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and killed hundreds of Islamist supporters who had protested his ouster.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has a much smaller presence in Sinai than in Iraq and Syria, but it has been increasingly active across Egypt in recent months. In December, the group claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Coptic cathedral in Cairo that killed more than 25 people.

Last month, rockets fired from Egypt landed inside the border with Israel, the second such attack in a month.

The rocket attacks followed Islamic State claims that an Israel drone had killed four of its members in a missile strike just inside the Egyptian border, near Rafah.

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