Tag Archives: Sinai Peninsula

Report: Egypt Preparing Large Assault Against ISIS in Libya Despite Opposition From Obama

President Abdel Fatah al Sisi,

President Abdel Fatah al Sisi,

Egypt is getting ready to launch a large air and ground attack against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in eastern Libya DebkaFile reports, quoting military and intelligence sources.

The Obama administration is reportedly opposed to the operation.

“Egypt is massing large-scale ground and air forces in the Western Desert along the Libyan border, in preparation for a military campaign to capture eastern Libya — Cyrenaica — from the Islamist State of Syria and Iraq — ISIS — occupation,” reports DebkaFile.

“The substantial naval and marine forces assembling at Egypt’s Mediterranean ports indicate the possible launching of the offensive by dropping Egyptian marines on the Libyan coast around Derna (pop: 100,000), which ISIS has made its provincial capital,” it added. “They may be accompanied by simultaneous landings of paratroops from the air.”

Some officials have warned that ISIS may use Libya to launch attacks against Europe.

The DebkaFile report notes that the Obama administration is against a direct invasion of Libya by Egypt, but would support Cairo taking action through local Libyan militias.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi was not convinced by CIA Director John Brennan who related Obama’s position on April 19.

“President El-Sisi was not surprised to hear from the CIA director that the Obama administration objects to a direct Egyptian invasion of Libya, but would not oppose Cairo acting through local Libyan militias,” said DebkaFile.

“Brennan leaned hard on the Egyptian president to follow Washington’s line, but El-Sisi refused,” it added later.

President El-Sisi did tell the CIA director that he does not plan to keep the Egyptian army in Libya. He is planning to pull his troops out after the jihadists are defeated. Ultimately, El-Sisi said he would hand power back to the elected Libyan government.

ISIS’ presence in eastern Libya and Sinai poses an unacceptable threat to El-Sisi’s country, noted the report.

“He has been warned in a number of intelligence reports that the Islamic State’s terrorists have already penetrated some Egyptian towns and even infiltrated certain army units,” it said.

ISIS is reportedly beefing up its presence in eastern Libya with reinforcements from Syria and Iraq to counter Egypt’s planned assault.

“From Syria, they are traveling by air or sea through the Mediterranean; from Iraq, through the Sinai Peninsula, whence oil and drug rings smuggle them across the Suez Canal and Egypt,” said DebkaFile.

Libya has been engulfed in unrest since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and executed in 2011 with the support of the Obama administration. Various tribes, militias, and political groups are competing for power in Libya.

The country has been split by two warring factions. One is led by the elected government operating out of Tobruk and the other by militias in Tripoli.

The Obama administration and other Western nations have been reluctant to intervene.

Egypt, without the support of the U.S., launched airstrikes against ISIS targets in Libya after the jihadist group beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians.

Egypt’s Mubarak calls on Egyptians to stand behind Sisi

 former president Hosni Mubarak

former president Hosni Mubarak

Egyptian citizens should stand behind their leader Abdel Fatah al Sisi, President Hosni Mubarak said Sunday during a rare phone interview on private television channel Sada El-Balad.

“The sons of the armed forces, with President [Abdel Fatah] al-Sisi at the forefront today, know exactly the meaning of national sovereignty and the sacredness of national territory,” Mubarak said.

“We [Egyptians] should trust our army’s capabilities and stand behind it,” especially in this “difficult, complex stage,” Mubarak added.

Mubarak also stressed the importance of maintaining ties with “Egypt’s friends.”

During the interview, which coincided with the commemoration of the 33rd anniversary of the liberation of Sinai, the former president spoke about the withdrawal of Israel from the tiny peninsula in 1982.

Mubarak, was interviewed by TV host Ahmed Moussa.

In November 2014, Mubarak was cleared of charges of complicity in the killing of protesters in the 2011 uprising.

Egypt to build $8.4 billion channel parallel to Suez Canal

Egypt to dig parallel Suez Canal in one year: El-Sisi 

Egypt is planning to build a new Suez Canal alongside the existing waterway, as part of a multi-billion dollar project to invest in port and shipping infrastructure. This will be a vital source of hard currency to the Arab country.

The new canal will be part of a bigger project to expand Suez port and shipping facilities into a major global trade hub.

“This giant project will be the creation of a new Suez Canal parallel to the current channel of a total length of 72 kilometers,” Mohab Mamish, chairman of the Suez Canal authority, told a conference on the project in Ismailia, one of the port’s on the waterway.

Mamish said that the project would consist of 35 kilometers of “dry digging,” in other words a totally new canal, and a further 37 kilometers of “expansion and deepening” of the existing waterway, so that two large ships can pass each other.

Plans have existed for years to develop the 76,000 square kilometers of land along the canal to generate more income and expand the waterway to take bigger ships.

The cost of digging out the new channel has been put at a conservative $8.4 billion and will be finished in an ambitious five-year plan, but El-Sisi ambitiously announced that digging for the parallel canal will be finished by mid-2015 – far sooner than the three years previously announced for the project.

Egyptian President Adel Fattah al-Sisi, a former army general, said that the army would have control of the project, but that 14 consortia had been asked to bid for it in January. Among the bidders were a number of state-run Arab contractors as well the US based global management consulting firm, Mckinsey & Co, and the architects James Cubitt and partners.The Lebanese engineering firm Dar al-Handasah will also be involved in the project.

The army’s key involvement is not much of a surprise, following their role in the toppling of Mohamed Morsi and a huge crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

There has also been a surge in violence over the last year from Islamist militants on the Sinai Peninsula, not far from the Suez Canal, where the Egyptian military have been involved in a campaign which has seen hundreds killed on both sides.

“Sinai to a large degree has a sensitive status. The army is responsible to Egypt for this,” said Sisi.

Sisi has said he will support major projects, like Suez, to help revive Egypt’s troubled economy, which have led some people to say he is following in the footsteps of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who led a coup against the monarchy in 1952 and then set up a military autocracy.

Nasser presided over several large scale projects during his 14 years as president, including the huge Aswan dam across the Nile.

In 1956, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, which led to an international crisis and a failed military attempt by Britain, Israel and France to take it back.

Congress sets up fight over aid to Egypt

United States Secretary of State John Kerry (L) greets chairwoman Rep. Kay Granger R-Tx. (R) before testifying at the House Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Mar. 12, 2014.

House and Senate appropriators have taken sharply differing tacks regarding Egypt, setting up a cross-party battle on the future of US assistance.The House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to vote June 24 on an aid package that maintains military aid at current levels while giving the administration new powers to continue aid flows even in the case of a military coup. The equivalent Senate panel meanwhile voted last week to cut military aid by $300 million while creating new hurdles for the administration.

The sentencing of three journalists to lengthy prison terms on June 23 however is prompting soul-searching on the House side.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., is expected to offer an amendment on June 24 that would cut and restructure American aid to Egypt — slicing nearly a third from the security assistance package that is currently the centerpiece of that aid and putting much of the savings into economic assistance, including enhanced support for education, democracy and civil society programs, assistance for independent media and targeted aid for the Sinai peninsula.

“The conviction of the Al Jazeera English journalists is one of a string of disturbing signs that Egypt is not undergoing the hoped-for and promised reforms, and is backsliding towards a reprise of the Mubarak era — when Islamists were repressed and secular opponents crushed underfoot,” Schiff said in an e-mailed statement. “Egypt is too important to the region and to the world for the United States to stand idly by. The amendment I will offer tomorrow will give Egypt the incentives it apparently needs to return to the democratic path.”

The division cuts across party lines, pitting powerful Senate Democrats and Republicans who control the government’s purse strings against their counterparts in the House. The fight is only expected to intensify after the State Department announced over the weekend that Congress had released $575 million in previously blocked military aid after the chairman of the Senate Appropriations panel on State and Foreign Operations, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., lifted his hold.

“The Congress has an important role in the provision of U.S. aid to foreign governments, and we consult regularly with the Administration,” Leahy told Al-Monitor in an e-mail. “Withholding military aid to the Egyptian regime has let its leaders know that repressive actions and abuses of human rights and the rule of law are deeply concerning to the American people, and to many in Congress. The harsh actions taken today against journalists is the latest descent toward despotism. Through discussions with Secretary Kerry and others over recent weeks I agreed to the release of the bulk of these funds for sustainment purposes, but further aid should be withheld until they demonstrate a basic commitment to justice and human rights.”

House Appropriators on the State and Foreign Operations panel, led by chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, and ranking member Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., have taken a softer approach. While their bill cuts economic assistance by $50 million — down to $200 million — it keeps military assistance flat at $1.3 billion while allowing the State Department leeway to continue aid to countries that undergo military coups.

The House bill would amend a provision known as the “coup clause” that is supposed to freeze direct assistance to any country whose “duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’état or decree or … in which the military plays a decisive role.” After the administration decided to ignore the law after President Mohamed Morsi was ousted from power last July, the new House bill would require the Secretary of State to make such a determination in the future; but it also adds language, requested by the State Department, that allows aid to continue to flow if the Secretary of State determines and certifies to Congress “that provision of assistance is vital to the national security interests of the United States.”

“In our view this additional ‘national security interest’ language essentially amounts to giving the administration a waiver on applying the law, which we view as disastrous,” Cole Bockenfeld, the director of advocacy at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), told Al-Monitor. “I believe this idea comes from the Egypt aid debacle of 2013, i.e. the admin was seeking a legislative loophole to not apply the law because they didn’t want to.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, under the leadership of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., sought to amend the coup language in legislation that cleared the panel on a 16-1 vote in December. But the Leahy would have none of it and the language didn’t make it into the omnibus spending bill for FY2014 that passed in January.

The new Senate bill retains the coup restrictions, and adds new restrictions on how much aid can flow to Egypt. Apparently upset by Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt back in April to release $650 million — a full half of the $1.3 billion in military aid for FY2014 — in the name of counterterrorism, nonproliferation and border security, the new bill spells out that only $300 million can be released for those purposes in FY2015.

The Senate bill also divides the total military and economic aid for FY2015 into two $575.5 million tranches, the first of which can only be released after the Egyptian government meets a series of human rights benchmarks. The second tranche would be released if Egypt meets those standards for at least six months.

The conditions include: holding free and fair elections and “implementing policies to govern democratically;” releasing American citizens deemed to be political prisoners and dropping the charges against them; allowing US officials, journalists and advocates access to the Sinai; releasing journalists and people arrested “solely for membership in social or political organizations;” providing detainees with due process of law; adopting and implementing laws regarding freedom of expression, association and assembly; investigating abuses by security forces; and taking steps to protect the rights of women and religious minorities.

al-monitor

Car bomb kills one in fourth explosion to hit Egypt Friday

A bomb blast near a court building in Cairo killed at least one policeman and wounded a few others on Friday

A bomb blast near a court building in Cairo killed at least one policeman and wounded a few others on Friday

CAIRO: One was killed when a car exploded in downtown Cairo in the late hours of Friday, the fourth explosion to rock the turmoil-hit Egypt on a day where Islamist demonstrations usually take place against the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi.

The number of casualties was not immediately clear after a car blast in Cairo’s Ramsis street near a subway station, an interior ministry spokesman told state-run news agency MENA.

“A car with no plates exploded, killing its owner. Explosive experts are combing the area to make sure there aren’t any explosive devices,” the spokesman added.

Earlier on Friday, at least four were killed after triple explosions struck the restive Sinai Peninsula and Cairo.

Two suicide attacks in South Sinai targeted a checkpoint and a tour bus, leaving at least one conscript dead and nine others injured.

The first attack happened when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the “Wady El Tor” security checkpoint, killing himself and a conscript as well injuring five other security personnel. The “Wady El-Tor” security checkpoint is operated by both the police and the armed forces.

Shortly after the first attack, a suicide bomber targeted a bus carrying workers of a tourist company in “Ras Gara” area in the South Sinai governorate.

In Cairo, a low ranking police officer was killed and four other security personnel – an officer and three conscripts – were injured following the explosion of a bomb in Heliopolis district at a traffic checkpoint.

A bomb blast near a court building in Cairo killed at least one policeman and wounded a few others on Friday

A bomb blast near a court building in Cairo killed at least one policeman and wounded a few others on Friday

Hundreds of police and army personnel have been killed since the toppling of Morsi in July 2013 following mass protests against his rule. Militants, including Al-Qaeda-inspired group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, have vowed to increase their attacks in the run-up to Egypt’s presidential elections later this month.

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Egypt intel: Hamas provided Muslim Brotherhood safe haven in Gaza to plan terror ops

Egyptian Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim.

Egyptian Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim.

CAIRO — Egypt has determined that Muslim Brotherhood fighters were receiving weapons and combat training in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Officials said the Egyptian intelligence community was tracing the flow of Brotherhood members to and from the Gaza Strip.

The officials said the Brotherhood was granted at least two facilities in southern Gaza for training and planning operations in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

“Despite repeated warnings, Hamas was allowing and in some cases aiding the Brotherhood terrorists,” an official said.

Officials said the Gaza Strip was also being used as a safe haven for the Brotherhood. They said Brotherhood fighters were learning weapons skills and the assembly of remote-controlled improvised explosive devices.

On April 17, the Egyptian Army captured 37 suspected Islamist fighters in northern Sinai. Two insurgents were killed in shootouts with army and Central Security Forces units around Sheik Zweid and El Arish.

Officials have identified at least one insurgency group as linked to the Brotherhood. The Interior Ministry determined that Ajnad Misr, which emerged in 2014 and claimed responsibility for eight bombings, was formed by a
Brotherhood leader. Ajnad was also believed linked to Ansar Beit Al Maqdis, deemed the most active insurgency group in Egypt.

“Call it Ansar Beit Al Maqdis, call it Ajnad Misr, either way, it is a Muslim Brotherhood militia, and the Brotherhood-era youth minister Osama Yassin was behind them,” Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said.

In a statement to Egypt’s independent daily Al Masri Al Yom, Ibrahim said Ajnad was an offshoot of Ansar. The minister said Ajnad, endorsed by Al Qaida leader Ayman Zawahiri, stemmed from the Brotherhood-linked protest group, Students Against the Coup, which began operating after the military overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013.

Ajnad has released a 23-minute video on Facebook that included footage of attacks on Egyptian security forces. The group claimed responsibility for the assassination of a senior police officer outside Cairo University in early April.

Officials said Yassin was recruiting additional militias, some of them linked to Al Qaida in Libya. They cited the new Free Egyptian Army in Libya.

“State bodies are currently examining methods to handle what is called the Free Egyptian Army in Libya, which provides a fertile ground for the growth and birth of jihadist groups,” Ibrahim said.

Officials said the Brotherhood was also establishing connections with the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant. They said ISIL, through an intermediary identified only as Abu Suhail, was working with the Brotherhood in operations in Sinai.

“The link began even before Morsi’s ouster,” an official said. “ISIL showed the Brotherhood techniques in surveillance of military positions.”

world tribune

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Breaking news – Series of explosions rock rally at Cairo University, 3 killed

A third blast has gone off near Cairo University, killing at least one. It follows two explosions which killed a police brigadier-general and a civilian during student protest.

At least four other police officers were wounded in the blasts, which went off near a parked police vehicle.

Officials said that the twin bombs went off within seconds of each other. The interior ministry said the bombs were hidden with other officials saying the devices had been concealed in a tree between two security posts.

DETAILS TO FOLLOW

The moment of the second explosion has been caught on tape. 

Egyptian state television said that the double explosions happened outside Cairo University’s engineering facility during clashes between security forces and students. It described the devices as crude and homemade.

Egypt’s security forces have been the target of frequent attacks since a military backed coup toppled President Mohamed Morsi last July. Although attacks have mainly been on the restive Sinai Peninsula, they have begun to spread to major urban areas like Cairo.

Morsi’s supporters have staged regular protests against the military appointed government, which the authorities say have killed almost 500 people, most of them police and soldiers.

DETAILS TO FOLLOW

Egypt police brigadier-general Tarek El- merjawy killed in Cairo blasts

Brigadier General Tarek El-Mergawy shortly after explosion

Brigadier General Tarek El-Mergawy shortly after explosion

Egyptian police brigadier-general Tarek El-merjawy was killed as two blasts hit outside Cairo University on Wednesday, state television said. Four police officers were wounded in an attack on a police vehicle, Reuters reported, citing security officials

 

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Egypt : White House Blocking Sale of Apache Helicopters Used in Anti-Terror Operations

Reports in Hebrew- and English-language Israeli media outlets on Tuesday conveyed quotes accusing the White House of blocking the sale of 10 Apache helicopters that Cairo.

An Egypt military source said to the newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that the White House is impeding an arms deal between US and Egypt according to which the US is to sell Cairo 10 Apache helicopters to help fight the terror in Sinai Peninsula.

The Pentagon has strong and varied reasons for seeking to bolster bilateral military-to-military ties – preferential overflight rights, privileged access to the Suez Canal, and so on – and is said to be pushing for Washington to restore its security assistance to Egypt. The White House partially froze weapons transfers to Cairo after the Egyptian military last summer removed the country’s Muslim Brotherhood-linked former President Mohammed Morsi from power in the wake of mass demonstrations calling for his resignation.

Apache helicopters, which the Egyptian army has on multiple occasions leveraged in its Sinai counter-terror operations, were among the assets affected by the ban. The White House had committed at the time to sparing aid that the Egyptian army used in its battles against Sinai jihadists, but experts had explicitly expressed doubts regarding the tenability of any distinction between generic military assistance and assets that would be used specifically in the Sinai.

The Tower.

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Israel: Gaza-bound Iranian rockets had 100-mile range

Israeli soldiers work around containers with boxes containing missiles and weapons unloaded from the seized KLOS C civilian cargo ship, in the military port at the Red Sea city of Eilat, southern Israel, Sunday, March 9, 2014

EILAT, Israel – Israel’s military said Sunday that a cargo ship it intercepted in the Red Sea last week carried 40 rockets with a range of up to 100 miles.

Israel has alleged the shipment was orchestrated by Iran and was intended for Islamic militants in Gaza, a claim denied by Iran and the rockets’ purported recipients.

An Egyptian security official said Sunday the rockets also might have been intended for militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which borders Gaza. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to brief reporters.

Neither Israel nor Egypt provided evidence for their claims. Questions remain, including how the rockets would have been smuggled into Gaza, largely cut off from the world by a border blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt.

Israel’s government has used the interception to bolster claims that Iran remains dangerous and that the world powers should break off negotiations with Tehran over the country’s nuclear program.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon alleged Sunday that the weapons shipment “uncovered the true intentions of the regime in Tehran, a regime that is sly, dangerous and without restraint, that continues to train, finance and arm terror groups in the Middle East and beyond and whose aim is destabilize the area and the whole world.”

In a further attempt to highlight Iran’s alleged role in arming militants, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planned to hold a news conference Monday in Israel’s Red Sea port of Eilat, where the Panama-flagged KLOS C docked under Israeli navy escort Saturday.

Israel’s military said Sunday that 40 rockets of the type M-302, with ranges of up to 160 kilometers (100 miles) – or enough to reach Israel’s main cities – were unloaded from the vessel. In addition, the military said it counted 181 mortar shells on the ship, along with some 400,000 rounds of ammunition.

It remains unclear to what extent the intercepted rockets would have raised the threat level against Israel.

Gaza’s ruling Hamas and the smaller group Islamic Jihad already possess thousands of rockets, though apparently with a shorter range. During eight days of fighting in 2012, armed groups from Gaza fired 1,500 rockets into Israel, including several that reached the outskirts of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

From the north, the Iranian-allied Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah also is believed to have thousands of rockets and missiles that could reach deep into Israel.

Israel intercepted the cargo ship last Wednesday, about 100 miles off the coast of Sudan. Israel has said the raid was a result of months of painstaking intelligence work.

Israeli officials said the rockets were flown from Syria to Iran months ago, then shipped from Iran’s Bandar Abbas port to Umm Qasr, Iraq, before being loaded onto the KLOS C, a civilian ship destined for Sudan.

From there, Israeli officials said they were to be smuggled overland through Egypt to Gaza – a route that has been used in the past.

The Egyptian security official said he believed the vessel’s final destination was close to Ras Mohammed, a nature reserve in the Sinai.

Since last summer, the Egyptian military has destroyed or sealed many of the dozens of smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border. However, the official said he believes some of the rockets could have made it through the tunnels despite the crackdown.

Iran, as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have denied any involvement with the shipment.

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Court in Egypt bans Palestinian group Hamas

Hamas PM Ismail Haniya, visited Cairo during Mohammed Morsi‘s year in office

A court in Egypt has banned all activities by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas and ordered the seizure of its offices and assets.

A lawsuit filed by an Egyptian lawyer had demanded the move because of its links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt’s interim government designated the Brotherhood a terrorist group in December, five months after President Mohammed Morsi was ousted .

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy told a news conference  “Whoever threatens Egypt’s security should understand that there will be consequences.”

Senior Hamas officials, including deputy political leader Moussa Abu Marzouk, live in Cairo and may now be at risk of arrest.

Conspiracy

Hamas, which governs the neighbouring Gaza Strip, was founded in the 1980s as an offshoot of the Brotherhood and the groups have close ties.

Since the overthrow of Mr Morsi, the authorities in Cairo have accused Hamas of interfering in Egyptian affairs and conspiring with jihadist militants based in the northern Sinai peninsula who have carried out attacks on government and security forces personnel, killing hundreds.

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Morsi and 35 others are on trial on charges including conspiring with foreign organisations – among them Hamas, Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah movement and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards – to commit terrorist acts.

Prosecutors say the attacks by jihadists, whom Hamas’s military wing has been accused of training, were intended to “bring back the deposed president and to bring Egypt back into the Muslim Brotherhood’s grip”.

The Palestinian group has also been accused of assisting Morsi’s escape from prison during the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak. The ousted president and more than 100 others, including members of Hamas, are charged with murdering prison officers during the breakout.

Since July, the Egyptian authorities have also limited movement through the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip and destroyed dozens of tunnels, which were dug under the border and used to smuggle food, fuel and weapons.

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