Egyptian Air Force strikes ISIS targets in Sinai, kills at least 15 terrorists

egypt-and-sinai-mapThe Egyptian Air Force on Saturday attacked ISIS targets in the Sinai Peninsula. According to reports, at least 15 members of the terrorist group were killed and dozens more injured. This air strike comes one day after ISIS killed 12 Egyptian soldiers in a shooting attack.

No organization has claimed responsibility for the shooting, though the Egyptian government is blaming it on an ISIS-affiliated group in Sinai. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said on Facebook that the attack “increases our determination to carry on with our battle.”

The Egyptian army has stated that the targets included ISIS ammunition storages, guard posts and hiding spots.

12 Egyptian soldiers killed, 8 injured in attack in Sinai

Scene of the attack in the Sinai
Scene of the attack in the Sinai

At least 12 Egyptian soldiers were killed Friday in a terror attack that was apparently carried out by ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula. In addition, 8 soldiers were injured when the terrorists opened fire on a military checkpoint.

The attack occurred about 40 kilometers (approximately 24 miles) from Bir el ‘Abd in Northern Sinai. According to the reports, the terrorists were armed with automatic firearms and heavy machine guns. The wounded received medical treatment in the city of Arish.

This shooting attack was the latest in a series of terror attacks carried out by terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula.

Muslim Brotherhood leader killed in Cairo gun battle with security forces

EgyptEgypt’s Interior Ministry said early on Tuesday that it killed a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader it said was responsible for the group’s “armed wing” and another member of the group in a shootout on Monday

Mohamed Kamal, 61, a member of the group’s top leadership, and Yasser Shehata, another leader, were killed.

An Egyptian riot policeman stands guard during a Cairo protest
An Egyptian riot policeman stands guard during a Cairo protest

The ministry said it raided an apartment in Cairo’s Bassateen neighbourhood after learning it was used by the leaders as a headquarters.

Kamal disappeared on Monday afternoon, the Muslim Brotherhood said on its social media accounts but gave no further updates. The Brotherhood says it is a peaceful organization.

Shehata was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison for “assaulting a citizen and forcibly detaining the person in the headquarters of the Freedom and Justice party,” the political wing of the origination, the ministry said in its statement.

Kamal had been sentenced to life in prison on two counts in absentia, added the statement.

Kamal is one of the most prominent leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and a member of the Guidance Bureau. He was in charge of the Supreme Administrative Committee, known as the youth committee. He resigned from the committee in May 2016, because the committee was opposed by other top leaders in the organization.

The Brotherhood, the Middle East’s oldest Islamist movement and long Egypt‘s main political opposition, said it is committed to peaceful activism designed to reverse what it calls a military coup in 2013.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi launched the toughest crackdown on Islamists in Egypt’s modern history after toppling President Mohamed Mursi of the Brotherhood in 2013.

Israeli military expects Islamic State attack on its southern border ‘within six months’

Israel is bracing for an Islamic State (ISIS) terror attack along its southern border with Egypt within the next six months, a senior Israeli military officer has warned.

Israel's military is bracing for an attack within six months.
Israel’s military is bracing for an attack within six months.

Wilayat Sinai, the jihadist group’s affiliate in the Sinai desert, has been stealing armored vehicles and anti-tank missiles from Egypt’s military and Israeli expects the weapons will soon be turned against its forces on the Egyptian border.

The Israeli officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The UK Telegraph that Wilayat Sinai had stolen at least one Egyptian M60 battle tank and had amassed a supply of Russian-made Kornet missiles, which can strike targets more than three miles away.

“It could happen today, tomorrow, in a month but within the next six months we will come into an engagement with Wilayat Sinai,” the officer said. “In the next six months they will try to carry out an attack and try to do something against Israel.”

If the officer’s prediction is borne out it would be the first attack on Israel’s southern border since 2012, when militants in Egypt launched a series of cross border raids.

The most dramatic was in August 2012, when jihadists overran an Egyptian base and killed 16 police officers before stealing two armored vehicles and breaking through the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

At the time of the 2012 attack, the group was known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the Supporters of Jerusalem, and was linked with al-Qaeda. But in 2014 the group pledged allegiance to ISIS and to the leader of its so-called caliphate, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

ISIS claims it brought down the Metrojet flight with a bomb planted inside a can
ISIS claims it brought down the Metrojet flight with a bomb planted inside a can

It took up the name Wilayat Sinai, meaning the Sinai province of the Islamic State. The group claimed responsibility for bombing the Russian Metrojet plane in October 2015, killing all 224 people aboard shortly after it took off from the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Israel believes that the group is significantly better equipped now than it was four years ago.

Zack Gold, non-resident fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Hariri Centre, said the “worst case scenario” for Israel was a cross-border raid in which Wilayat Sinai was able to capture Israelis and bring them back over the border.

Such an operation would force Israel to launch retaliatory or rescue missions into the Sinai, either with Egypt’s permission or without it.

“Either way it would be very bad for relations and you would probably see protests in Cairo if there was an Israeli operation in the Sinai.”

In the years since the 2012 attack Wilayat Sinai has focused its efforts on attacking Egyptian military targets, although more recently it has also carried out attacks against civilians.

Egyptian and Israeli forces coordinate closely on their shared border.
Egyptian and Israeli forces coordinate closely on their shared border.

Egypt’s military responded with a series of operations that have limited the group’s operating space but it remains active in the eastern Sinai. Israel and Egypt work closely together on counter-terror operations in the Sinai.

ISIS regularly threatens to carry out attacks against Israel and in August Wilayat Sinai said the group planned attacks against the Jewish state.

“Oh Jews, wait for us. The punishment is severe and soon you will pay a high price,” a jihadist said in an online video.

But for all its rhetoric, ISIS has so far not carried out any centrally organized attacks on Israel. While some “lone wolf” Palestinian attackers may have been inspired by the jihadist group, there has been no equivalent of the attacks in Europe against Israel.

In an article published in an ISIS newspaper in March of this year, a writer argued that the fight against Israel should not be prioritised over the battle against Arab regimes which do not enforce the jihadists’ extremist beliefs.

The Israeli army officer said he felt Wilayat Sinai would eventually come under pressure to carry out its threats against Israel.

“Many terrorist organizations use Israel as a prop but, for these statements to have any content or not be seen as empty, something must eventually happen in the field,” he said.

Egyptian Christians at a ‘Breaking Point’ After Summer of Attacks

Egypta-coptic-woman-in-prayerIn a lengthy and disturbing piece on Egypt’s Coptic Christians this week, Rod Nordland of the New York Times described them as a community at the “breaking point,” to borrow the words of Bishop Makarios of Minya.

This is not what a casual consumer of Egyptian news would expect, and it is not what the Copts expected, either. Nordland writes of high hopes for protection after the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi was toppled by the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is often given solid marks by foreign observers for his stance against Islamist oppression.

Egypt’s Christians are disappointed with the return for their support of Sisi, who was the first Egyptian leader to attend a Coptic Christmas service in 2015. Nordland writes of “violence and humiliation” in the city of Minya:

Houses have been burned, Copts attacked on the streets and hate graffiti written on the walls of some churches. In all, Coptic officials have counted 37 attacks in the past three years, not including some 300 others right after Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were ousted from power in 2013.

The turning point for local Copts came in May when an older Christian woman was stripped naked by a mob, which had been incited by reports that the woman’s son was having an affair with a Muslim.

“After that woman was stripped, we couldn’t be quiet, not after that,” Bishop Makarios said. What especially angered Copts, he added, “is that officials came out denying the incident.”

“Had they apologized or said they would follow it up, it would be different, but this was an insult to Egypt and the women of Egypt,” he said.

Not only was the Muslim woman not having an affair with the son, the bishop said, but she is suing her husband for libel for having started a false rumor.

Bishop Makarios complained that attacks on Christians result in no prosecutions — even lethal ones, like the stabbing of a Christian by a mob in July, reportedly following an argument over whether Muslim or Christian children had higher priority to pass through a crowded street.

“In such attacks, every one of them is released, not a single one has been punished, and that’s what really upsets the Copts. So long as no one is punished, this is just going to get worse,” said Makarios.

One of the problems highlighted by Makarios is that the system constructed to resolve disputes through arbitration, rather than prosecution, ends up pressuring intimidated Christians into accepting settlements that are far more advantageous to their more numerous Muslim neighbors.

The government’s appointed arbitrator, Muslim cleric Mahmoud Gomaa, refuses to budge from his “everything is good” position. The Coptic Pope talked his followers in the United States out of staging a White House demonstration to call attention to the plight of Egypt’s Christians. There is clearly a great deal of pressure on the Copts to avoid making waves.

Egypt’s Sisi Says Putin Ready to Host Mideast Peace Talks

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said his Russian counterpart and close ally Vladimir Putin wants to host an Israeli-Palestinian summit to revive peace talks, in an interview published Monday.

Sisi told state newspaper editors that he believed Israel was increasingly convinced of the need for a peace deal, saying it was a “positive sign.”

But Palestinian infighting between the Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah in the West Bank remained an obstacle, he said in the interview.

Talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas have been suspended since 2014, despite a push by Washington and France to resume the peace process.

Sisi, who is seen as having good ties with both Israel and Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, has also been pushing for a resumption of negotiations.

“Putin has told me that he is ready to receive both (Abbas) and Netanyahu in Moscow to carry out direct talks to find a solution and solve the issue,” Sisi said.

“I see that the conviction of the importance of peace is rising among the Israeli side, and the conviction about finding an exit to the issue is a positive sign.

“At the same time, it is important to end the Palestinian-Palestinian rift… and to have national reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas so that the climate be ready for real efforts to establish a state,” he said.

Sisi said last month that his country was making serious efforts to break the deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians.

His remarks followed a trip by Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to Israel, the first in nine years.

Egypt became in 1979 the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, after four wars.

Netanyahu has called on Palestinians to engage in direct negotiations with Israel, but Palestinian leaders say years of talks have not ended Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Abbas has instead tried to put pressure on Israel through diplomacy at the UN.

Qatar Prepares For Sanctions If Brotherhood Dispute Escalates

Qatar map 2Qatar is preparing contingencies to ward off economic pressure threatened by its Gulf neighbors amid a continued diplomatic stand-off over the role of political Islam in the region.

Executives in Doha say official planning is under way to deal with any potential sanctions, despite officials’ belief that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain will refrain from raising tensions further after last week’s withdrawal of ambassadors.

The dispute erupted at a stormy meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council this month as Saudi officials threatened to close air space or its land border to Qatar unless Doha reins in support for the pan-Arab Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are concerned that Doha’s close relations with the Brotherhood — banned in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE — is dividing the six members of the GCC.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are leading backers of Egypt’s interim military-led regime under Abdul Fattah Al Sissi, which last year ousted Mohammad Mursi, the elected Islamist president and one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leading figures.

UAE and Saudi leaders met Field Marshal Al Sissi last week after Egyptian troops arrived in the UAE for military exercises.

Of the other GCC members, Kuwait is acting as mediator while Oman usually avoids involvement in intra-Arab disputes, although observers say that Muscat is concerned at the aggressive measures being taken against Qatar.