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Egypt: Islamic State militants ‘occupy’ Sinai villages in wake of foiled attack

IS offshoot reportedly replacing the Egyptian flag with the group’s black flag in all central squares
A picture taken on 26 July 2018 shows Egyptian police on a road leading to the North Sinai provincial capital of al-Arish (AFP/file photo)

Residents of a number of villages in northeastern Egypt's restive Sinai Peninsula have reportedly fled their homes in recent days after militants affiliated with the Islamic State group (IS) occupied the area. 

According to a report by the Egyptian news website Mada Masr, militants from Sinai Province - an IS offshoot in the area - had occupied the villages of Qatiya, Iqtiya, Ganayen and Merih in North Sinai in the aftermath of a foiled attack on an Egyptian army camp in the nearby town of Bir al-Abd last week. 

The Egyptian army said in a statement on Sunday that it had killed 18 suspected militants after the attempted attack, which took place in the village of Rabea on 21 July.

IS has claimed that it killed 40 military personnel in the attack, but the army said only two soldiers had been killed.

Bir al-Abd, situated about 80km west of North Sinai's capital al-Arish, had been the site of several attacks claimed by IS, including the deadliest attack in modern Egyptian history in which more than 300 worshippers were gunned down in a mosque in 2017.

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According to Mada Masr, IS militants entered the four villages during the attack, planted explosive devices at all entrances and replaced the Egyptian flag with the group’s black flag in all central squares. 

The report has not been independently verified by Middle East Eye. 

Security forces have been battling a hardened insurgency in Egypt's northeast Sinai Peninsula, spearheaded by a local IS affiliate.

In February 2018, authorities launched a nationwide operation against militant groups, focused on North Sinai. 

Since then, around 990 suspected militants have been killed in the region, along with scores of security personnel, according to official figures.

The Egyptian military has struggled to defeat the militants, who have launched attacks on tourists, security forces and houses of worship, and have also been accused of committing war crimes against civilians in the area.

Last month, Egypt’s Council for Media Regulation announced a ban on media reporting on the fighting in Sinai.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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