Egypt launches assault on militants weeks ahead of election

Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas stand guard outside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt under the control of the Palestinian Authority

Egypt's governor for North Sinai announced on Friday the closure of all schools "indefinitely" as the military presses forward with a crackdown on militants.

The armed forces targeted hotbeds and huts used by terrorists as bases to launch attacks against security forces in central and North Sinai on Friday, as part of a comprehensive operation in the region, armed forces spokesperson Tamer al-Refaei announced.

The border guards and the police have maintained maximum security alert and deployment at border areas nationwide, according to the military 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 simultaneous raids included the capital Cairo and the provinces of Qalioubiya, Daqahliya, Beheira, Minufiya, Sharqiya, Assiut and Fayoum, where explosive devices and machine guns were also seized. Since then, the Wilayat Sinai, the ISIL branch in Egypt, has claimed responsibility for a number of deadly attacks in the area.

"This comes in addition to training and other operations on all strategic directions in order to tighten control of the ports of the Egyptian state", he added.

Most of the violence has been in North Sinai province, but there have also been attacks on the military, police and even churches elsewhere, including in Cairo.

Egyptian authorities have kept the Rafah crossing with Gaza virtually sealed since a terrorist attack in the Sinai Peninsula in October 2014, though they have temporarily reopened the crossing several times since that attack, mostly for the passage of humanitarian cases.

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. Shortly afterward, Sissi gave security forces a three-month deadline to restore stability to northern Sinai and authorized his chief of staff to use "all brute force".

The military action, named 'Sinai 2018, ' starts a "comprehensive counter-terrorist plan" in the country, Col.

Sisi, who is expected to easily win another four-year term next month after several potential challengers were either hobbled or dropped out, said on Facebook he was "proudly following the heroism" of the security forces.

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