Egypt's Sisi says battle against jihadists will be a tough one
01 February 2015, 08:01
Cairo - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Saturday the battle against jihadist insurgents in the Sinai Peninsula would be a long and hard one, as violence there continues unabated.
Sisi spoke following a meeting with his top brass two days after militants killed more than two dozen people, mostly soldiers, in the latest attacks in the largely lawless North Sinai.
His remarks also came as an Egyptian court banned as a terrorist group the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which holds sway in the Gaza Strip, which borders the Sinai.
The president, who created a unified military command to respond to the ongoing insurgency, said in remarks broadcast on television that the "battle will be difficult, hard and hellish, and it will be long."
Flanked by his top generals and occasionally raising his voice in anger, Sisi said "we will not abandon the Sinai to anyone."
He also repeated accusations that the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood of deposed president Mohamed Morsi is behind the violence, a claim the group denies.
Earlier in the day, an official said the court ruled on a complaint from a lawyer that Hamas's Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades was directly involved in "terrorist operations" in the Sinai.
He also accused the movement of using tunnels under the common border to smuggle arms used in attacks against the police and army, the official said.
Since Egypt's military ousted Morsi in 2013, the authorities have themselves accused Hamas of aiding the jihadists.
Egypt's military says it has destroyed more than 1,600 tunnels since Morsi's ouster. Hamas 'has conducted attacks'
In the ruling, the judge said "the documents submitted by the plaintiff to the court showed that the organisation has conducted attacks... that targeted the military and the Egyptian police and facilities."
There was no immediate response to the court ruling from the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades itself, but Hamas denounced it as "a dangerous political decision that serves the interests of the occupier," referring to Israel.
And a spokesman said the armed wing should not be dragged into "Egypt's internal affairs".
In early January, Egypt began work on doubling the width of a buffer zone along the border with Gaza to prevent militants infiltrating from the enclave.
The buffer zone was created following a suicide bombing on October 24 that killed 30 Egyptian soldiers and wounded scores.
After that incident, Cairo declared a three-month state of emergency in parts of North Sinai, a remote but strategic region bordering Israel and Gaza.
Last week the decree was extended by three months.
On Thursday militant attacks, including a car bombing, claimed by the Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) group left at least 30 people dead in North Sinai.
And on Friday, an interior ministry employee was shot dead in his home in the provincial capital El-Arish, officials said.
Jihadists in the Sinai have killed scores of policemen and soldiers since Morsi's overthrow, vowing revenge against a crackdown on his supporters that has killed more than 1,400 people.
Last March, Cairo banned and outlawed Hamas operations on Egyptian soil, ordering the freezing of its assets.
Despite worsening relations between Hamas and Sisi, the former army chief and architect of Morsi's fall, Cairo continues to play its traditional role of mediator between Hamas and Israel, including during last summer's war in Gaza.