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EGYPT: Nearly 20 alleged gas pipeline saboteurs arrested

August 17, 2011 |  7:34 am

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One man has been killed and nearly 20 Islamist militants, suspected in recent attacks on a police station and a natural gas pipeline supplying Israel, have been arrested in recent days in a sweeping military operation in the Sinai Peninsula.

More than 1,000 Egyptian soldiers have been taking part in Operation Eagle against  armed extremist groups believed to be responsible for the recurring assaults in the peninsula since the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. The Sinai pipeline has been targeted five times over the last six months. On July 30, two police officers and three civilians were killed when 100 masked gunmen riding motorcycles and carrying flags with Islamic slogans attacked a police station in the city of Arish.

A security source, who spoke to state media on condition of anonymity, said militants were arrested Tuesday shortly before planning to bomb the pipeline near the city of Arish. On Monday, the first day of the operation, the state news agency MENA reported that Palestinians and Egyptians were captured and one gunman was killed in a raid on militant hideouts.

Concerns over the security situation in Sinai intensified on Aug. 2 when a group referring to itself as Al Qaeda's wing in Sinai called for the creation of an Islamic caliphate in the peninsula. Authorities later claimed that the jihadists responsible for attacks on the Arish police station and the pipeline were linked to Al Qaeda’s Sinai wing.

The unrest in the region has political and tribal overtones. Many Egyptians are opposed to Cairo selling natural gas to Israel, especially following disclosures that Mubarak's regime gave the Jewish state below-market prices.  The matter has been further complicated by Egypt's long battle with Bedouin tribes who smuggle weapons, cars, food, building materials and other items through tunnels and into the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip.  

A 1979 peace accord between Egypt and Israel limits the number of Egyptian soldiers in Sinai. But on Monday, Israeli public radio announced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had accepted an Egyptian request to deploy extra forces in the troubled peninsula.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Army soldiers deployed in Sinai for Operation Eagle. Credit: Reuters

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