Egypt President Mursi sacks officials after Sinai attacks

Egyptian security forces stand by their armoured personnel carriers ahead of a military operation in the northern Sinai peninsula on 8 August Military spokesmen said the initial operation against militants in Sinai had been a "success"

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Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi has sacked the country's intelligence chief and the governor of the country's North Sinai province.

Hours earlier, the Egyptian military launched an offensive in the region against suspected Islamist militants which it says has killed 20 people.

The campaign comes after militants killed 16 Egyptian border guards in the area on Sunday.

On Wednesday, more attacks followed on checkpoints in the town of al-Arish.

Those attacks left a number of people wounded and the military offensive was launched hours later.

The sacking of the country's intelligence chief was announced in a statement on state-run TV.

"Gen Mohamed Murad Mowafi is given retirement starting from today," presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said.

Gen Mowafi had been quoted in Egyptian media as saying that the intelligence services had received warning of Sunday's attack.

However, he said they had only passed the matter on to the relevant authorities, saying that the intelligence services' job was only to collect information.

Mr Mursi has appointed an acting intelligence chief, Gen Mohamed Raafat Abdel-Wahed.

He also dismissed the commander of the presidential guard, as well as several other top security officials.

Sunday's attack was the the deadliest and most brazen against Egyptian troops in the Sinai region for decades, and Mr Mursi had faced criticism for not taking decisive action in response.

SINAI

Sinai
  • Huge desert peninsula of about 60,000 sq km (23,000 sq miles) with a population of only a few hundred thousand
  • Distinct identity from rest of Egypt; populated by native Bedouin and a substantial minority of Palestinian extraction
  • Of great strategic importance, linking Egypt to the Middle East, and site of Egyptian border with Israel and only non-Israeli border with Gaza
  • Under Israeli occupation from 1967 to 1982, it remains under special security regime mandated by 1979 peace treaty, which significantly restricts Egypt's freedom of military action and requires deployment of multinational peacekeeping force
  • There has been a surge in jihadist activity in the past decade, but analysts say discriminatory treatment by Cairo underpins local unrest
Military operation

Wednesday's military offensive in Sinai killed 20 people in the village of Touma, according to military officials, while the Sheikh Zuwaid area to the west was also hit.

Military spokesmen said the initial operation had been a "success" and that it was ongoing.

This is the first time Egypt has fired missiles in Sinai since the 1973 war with Israel, when it attempted to recapture the Sinai peninsula, security officials told Associated Press.

Egyptian military presence in Sinai is limited and requires Israeli approval under the terms of the 1979 peace treaty between the nations which returned Sinai to Egyptian control.

State news agency Mena said that during the air raids, hours after the al-Arish checkpoints were attacked, "terrorists" had used rockets and rocket-propelled grenades to try to shoot down the military aircraft "but they failed".

Tensions are very high in the area, where Islamist extremists are said to have gained a foothold in recent months, taking advantage of the security vacuum left after former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year, reports the BBC's Yolande Knell in Sinai.

The Egyptian soldiers killed in Sunday's attack were buried on Tuesday in a funeral marked by angry calls for vengeance.

Some protesters chanted slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood, and according to witnesses, tried to assault Prime Minister Hisham Qandil.

Both Israeli and Egyptian officials blamed Sunday's attack on Islamist militants - though Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the group to which President Mohammed Mursi belongs, accused the Israeli spy agency Mossad of being responsible.

Israel rejected that claim as "nonsense".

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