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Egypt says seven security personnel killed in Sinai by militants

The attack is the second to target security forces in Sinai in less than month
Rights groups have accused the Egyptian army of targeting civilians in nearly weekly airstrikes since Sisi came to power in 2013 (AFP)

At least one police officer and six conscripted soldiers were killed in Egypt’s restive North Sinai on Tuesday night in an attack by militants, according to the ministry of interior.

The attack targeted an assembly area for police southwest of the city of Arish in North Sinai, the ministry said in a statement.

Four militants were killed after an explosive belt worn by one of the assailants detonated, the statement added, and security forces confiscated explosive belts, automatic weapons and hand grenades found with the group.

The High State Security Prosecution have opened an investigation, according to the ministry.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, the second in Sinai in less than one month, after Islamic State (IS) militants killed eight security personnel on the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday.  

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The Sinai region has witnessed decades of insurgency since the early 2000s, and the attacks intensified after the 2011 uprising and the 2013 military coup led by current president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Since 2013, attacks ratcheted up with nearly weekly incidents as militants accused the army of displacing locals and launching air strikes on civilian homes.

In 2014, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, an established militant group in Sinai, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group (IS) and changed its name to Sinai Province, claiming to be an IS branch. 

As the Egyptian military has struggled to defeat the group, which has launched attacks on tourists, security forces and houses of worship, it has also been accused of committing war crimes against civilians in the area.

According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, the crimes include widespread arbitrary arrests of civilians, torture, and extrajudicial killings - abuses that have been largely undocumented due to the ban on independent media coverage in the area.

Seven current and former soldiers told MEE earlier this year that they have been poorly trained for the war in Sinai, which independent researchers say has killed more than 1,500 security personnel.

Many of the soldiers serving in Sinai are conscripts. According to the Egyptian constitution, men aged 18 to 30 must serve in the military for at least 18 months, followed by a nine-year obligation to serve if called up for duty.