Thirty-five masked gunmen in Bedouin attire opened fire Sunday at an Egyptian Army checkpoint near the convergent borders of Egypt, Israel, and the Gaza Strip. Sixteen Egyptian soldiers were killed and seven were injured in the ensuing gun battle. The gunmen then seized two vehicles and headed towards Israel in an attempt to break through the Kerem Shalom border crossing, possibly plotting to abduct an Israeli soldier. The Israeli Air Force struck one vehicle that entered Israel while the other exploded at the crossing. According to Israel, seven militants were killed.
The IDF reportedly received warning of a possible attack on Kerem Shalom two days in advance and shared the intelligence with Egypt. Sinai tribal chiefs also reportedly warned Egypt about extremist threats. Egypt, however, failing to increase security along the border in response to the potential threat, was unprepared for Sunday’s fatal assault. While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, Cairo blamed insurgents who infiltrated Egypt from Gaza, and Israel suspects militants affiliated with al-Qaeda. Hamas and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood claimed that Israel was behind the attack, a charge Israel dismissed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak visit Kerem Shalom Monday following Sunday’s vicious attack. (Photo: Avi Ohayon)
The attack was condemned by Egypt, Israel, and Hamas. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi called the attack “cowardly“, but claimed that “Sinai is safe and fully under control” — a statement that ought to be met with skepticism. Over the past year, the Sinai has been host to vicious attacks. Almost one year ago, eight Israelis were killed when a jihadist group entered Israel from the Peninsula and launched a multi-pronged attack that included firing at vehicles and detonating a roadside bomb. In June, members of a Sinai-based al-Qaeda affiliate crossed into Israel and fired at Israeli vehicles, killing an Israeli Arab construction worker. Also that month, militants opened fire at the El-Arish checkpoint, killing five Egyptian policemen. And just last month, two motorcyclists shot and killed two Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai. In addition, a pipeline supplying gas to Israel has been attacked 15 times since February 2011 and tourists have been kidnapped by Sinai Bedouins. But Sunday’s attack, with over 20 casualties, was a bloodier affair than others in recent memory.
Since the fall of former dictator Hosni Mubarak, the Sinai has been neglected and is fast becoming a terror hotbed. The most recent attacks illustrate that terrorists in the Sinai are increasingly targeting not only Israelis, but Egyptians as well.