The Egyptian army has set Friday, July 19, as D-Day for launching a major offensive, dubbed Fattah 2 (Conquest 2), against a coalition of aggressive Salafists, Muslim Brotherhood operatives, Hamas and Jihad Islami groups terrorizing Sinai. The commanders of Egypt’s Second and Third Armies are leading the campaign. DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the Second Army chief, Gen. Ahmed Wasfi, has established his command center at El Arish in northern Sinai, and Gen. Osama Askar, head of the Third Army has set up his headquarters in the central Sinai village of Nakhal. They have sealed off the exit from the Gaza Strip through Rafah, and warned its Hamas rulers that the crossing will remain closed until the campaign ends.
Israeli forces along the Egyptian and Gaza borders are on alert; so too are the 2,600 US Marines aboard two amphibious helicopter carriers anchored opposite the Red Sea shores of Southern Sinai and the Gulf of Suez since the start of the Egyptian crisis.
Thursday, the Egyptian military reported that a security operation carried out by the armed forces in northern Sinai in the past 48 hours had led to the deaths of 10 jihadists. Armed militants killed three Egyptian policemen in earlier separate attacks overnight.
Thursday, DEBKAfile reported that the security situation in Sinai and along the Egypt-Israel frontier is rapidly going from bad to worse. The Islamist coalition’s war on Egyptian police and military positions has gone far beyond the isolated strikes here and there reported by official spokesmen, DEBKAfile’s military sources report.
Hundreds of Salafist Bedouin, Muslim Brotherhood adherents and Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters from the Gaza Strip have joined forces to block northern Sinai’s key road arteries. They have stopped traffic to the Egyptian-Israeli border terminal at Nitzana, to the US-led multinational national observer base at Al Gora near El Arish, and to the big cement factory built by the Egyptian military in El Arish which is the region’s main source of employment.