Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Friday’s attacks on army posts in the northern part of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula were carried out by Palestinian militants, a senior Interior Ministry official told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday, at the same time that President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi told Egyptians in a televised address that “foreign forces” were responsible for the attacks.
Maj. Gen. Sameeh Beshadi, who was formerly in charge of security in the North Sinai governorate where the attacks took place, said there was “no doubt that Palestinian elements had taken part in the attacks,” which killed at least 30 soldiers, according to security and medical officials.
He said the assailants had entered Sinai via the tunnels linking the region with the Palestinian territories, and that the assailants had prepared the booby-trapped vehicle which Egyptian authorities say was used to carry out one of the attacks while inside Egyptian territory.
According to Egyptian officials, of the two attacks Friday, the first involved a booby-trapped vehicle being rammed into an army checkpoint close to the border town of El-Arish, while a second attack involved the use of mortars and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) against another checkpoint to the south.
Beshadi said the use of RPGs and mortars in the second attack proved the assailants were not local to the area. “The terrorists we are dealing with in North Sinai do not possess the necessary knowhow to fire mortar rounds, nor do they have the ability to use RPGs, in the way that we saw in the complex attack that occurred on Friday,” he maintained.
This comes as President Sisi warned on Saturday that “foreign hands” were behind the attacks, though he did not specify who exactly was responsible.
Beshadi said it could take as little as little as 15 minutes to cross via vehicle from the Gaza Strip to the area where the attacks were carried out, some 30 miles (50 kilometers) to the west of the border.
“All the big terrorist operations which have taken place in North Sinai in the last few years involved well-trained Palestinian elements, including the attack on the military helicopter at the beginning of this year,” Beshadi said, referring to an attack which took place mid-January in the Kharouba area in North Sinai and which killed five soldiers.
The establishment of a safe zone in the border areas between Egypt and the Gaza Strip was now “the only solution” that would be able to halt the attacks on Egyptian soldiers stationed in the Sinai, Beshadi said, adding that this would not come at the expense of local residents.
Beshadi said a number of Sinai residents had been rehoused in other areas and had been fairly compensated for any losses incurred as a result.
In recent months a number of people living in North Sinai have been relocated by the Egyptian Army due to fighting between the army and Islamist militants, most prominently from the Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis group, which has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks on military and security personnel in the Sinai and in other areas of the country, including Cairo.
Beshadi said the Suez Canal area was safe, adding that extra reinforcements had been sent to the “Suez Canal governorates” of Suez, Ismailia and Port Said to boost security in the area, where work is also currently underway to construct a second parallel canal to the existing one.
Militants in the Sinai Peninsula have upped their attacks against Egyptian forces in the region since the military deposed Islamist president Mohamed Mursi last July. There have been allegations in the Egyptian media that Mursi—a Muslim Brotherhood member currently on trial for conspiring with foreign organizations and groups such as Hamas—allowed the entry of armed elements from Gaza into Egypt during his one-year stint in power.