Egypt President makes unannounced visit to North Sinai

Friday 03/07/2015
In recognition of heroic role of armed forces

CAIRO - Egypt's president made an unannounced visit to the Sinai Peninsula on Saturday to rally troops following a wave of deadly jihadist attacks on security forces, his office said.

"President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is inspecting troops and police in the North Sinai," his office said without specifying where in the restive province.

"I have come to salute the heroes of the armed forces and to express to them my recognition," he was quoted by the army's spokesman as saying.

The government called in air strikes Wednesday after a spectacular attack by Islamic State group jihadists in the North Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid left dozens dead.

The army said 17 soldiers and 100 militants had been killed. But medical and security officials said the death toll was at least 70 people -- mostly soldiers -- as well as dozens of jihadists.

The violence poses a major test for Sisi, a former military chief who has pledged to eliminate the militants.

On Saturday a shell slammed into a house in Sheikh Zuweid, killing a woman and two children, medical and security sources said. It was unclear which side fired the shell.

Sisi said he saluted "every home, every mother whose child has died a martyr or been wounded for Egypt."

The army, police and even officials have regularly come under fire, not only in Sinai, but in the capital, since then army chief Sisi ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi two years ago.

The jihadists say they are acting in response to the bloody repression launched by the authorities after Morsi's overthrow, which has seen at least 1,400 killed and thousands more jailed.

Most of the attacks are claimed by a group calling itself the "Sinai Province." Formerly known as Ansar Beit al -Maqdis, it changed its name when it pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

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