Egyptian forces destroyed 31 tunnels connecting Sinai with the Gaza Strip during an operation to battle Islamist militants after gunmen killed 16 soldiers at a border outpost on August 5, a spokesman for the country’s military command announced in a press conference on Saturday.
Colonel Ahmed Mohammed Ali said there were about 225 tunnels in Sinai. The tunnels are used to smuggle various kinds of products into the besieged Gaza Strip and the Egyptian authorities have often turned a blind eye to the cross border activity.
But the deterioration of security conditions that culminated in the deadly August ambush in Sinai raised concerns that the tunnels were likely used to smuggle weapons and to facilitate the movement of armed groups.
Colonel Ali said Egyptian forces have also killed 32 “criminal elements” and arrested 38 people including “non-Egyptians” during “Operation Sinai.”
“The operation will continue until its goals have been achieved... These are not just military goals but also developmental goals for the Sinai,” Ali said.
The statements were likely to unnerve Israel, which had expressed “reservations” over Egypt’s deployment of reinforcements in the peninsula, with which it shares a border.
But Ali insisted that “the deployment of the armed forces, on all the territory of Sinai, is not a violation of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.”
“Our presence (in Sinai) is in the frame of coordination,” with the Israelis, Ali said.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said last week he expected the Egyptian army to withdraw its reinforcements from the peninsula at the end of the operation.