Egypt Readies for Operation to Free Abducted Soldiers

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The Egyptian army is sending reinforcements to the Sinai Peninsula for an operation to free the seven soldiers kidnapped a few days ago, amid disagreements with the presidency about the best way to do it.

The Egyptian Army yesterday [May 20] sent reinforcements to Sinai in anticipation for the order to launch a military operation aimed at freeing the seven soldiers kidnapped by gunmen in the Egyptian peninsula. This is taking place amid bickering and disagreements between the presidency and the National Security Agency (formerly State Security), as well as Army Command and the General Intelligence Service, about the best way to deal with the situation.

Today, the Sinai city of Al-Arish was fraught with tension as 12 oversized transports carrying 34 armored vehicles arrived on the scene, in addition to eight buses with close to 300 soldiers. These were all part of preparations for a military operation targeting gunmen who abducted the seven soldiers. The city also saw the arrival of Maj. Gen. Ahmad Wasfi, the 2nd Field Army Commander, to assess the security situation and supervise the operation’s implementation.

These troops sent to Sinai waited at the 101st Battalion headquarters in Al-Arish, which implied that the confrontation between the army and jihadist factions was imminent.

Military sources confirmed to As-Safir that additional military vehicles and troops belonging to the 2nd Field Army would arrive later at Al-Arish to take part in the operation.

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The sources considered the abduction of the soldiers in Sinai to be part of an ongoing campaign to provoke an as-of-yet restrained army, which has, so far, refrained from using force. But the same sources affirmed that things would be different this time around, and that the army’s response would be extremely forceful in the upcoming confrontations to deter all terrorist organizations.

So, according to the same sources, the armed forces would conduct meetings with clan elders and other people knowledgeable in Sinai affairs to find out the kidnappers’ whereabouts, adding that “we await zero hour; and the operation will be conducted with the least possible amount of damage.”

But zero hour might not come anytime soon, in light of the deep disagreements between the state institutions concerned with taking the decisive actions that would end the crisis. Army Command insists that action be taken swiftly and a lightning operation be mounted against the terrorists in Sinai, while the presidency is requesting additional time to try and solve the crisis through non-military means.

It was noteworthy that the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency (formerly State Security) supported the presidency’s proposal not to rush into the military option; while the General Intelligence Service endorsed the army’s position.

As a result, there are concerns that the differences in opinion might lead to the soldiers remaining in custody for an extended period of time. This could lead to additional demands by the kidnappers, in light of the security agencies’ failure to determine where the soldiers are being held. These agencies have been unable to locate the soldiers a result of the area’s geology and the refusal of a large number of clan elders to cooperate with the presidency and its delegation that visited Al-Arish last night [May 20] under the veil of complete secrecy.

One tribal leader told As-Safir that a presidential delegation arrived to Al-Arish in order to communicate with the elders and cooperate with them to secure the release of the soldiers. But the elders informed the delegation that they were not involved in this crisis and had no connections with the kidnappers. They, however, affirmed to the Second Army’s commander that they were ready to help if the Armed Forces command promised to reassess the problems faced by the inhabitants of the Sinai.

Noteworthy yesterday [May 20] was the rebellion that spread through all Central Security institutions in Sinai. The call to strike even reached the Egyptian peninsula’s police stations, days after protests about the soldiers’ abduction remained confined to the Rafah border crossing.

Negotiations were held at the Oujah border crossing between Gen. Mahfouz Attieh, the commander of the Rafah and Oujah land ports, accompanied by central Sinai Bedouin elders, to try and convince officers there to reopen the two crossings, which they refused to do in protest of their colleagues’ abduction.

Dozens of Interior Ministry employees and members of the abducted soldiers’ families gathered in front of the Rafah crossing holding photos of the Egyptian soldiers and affirming that they would not allow the crossings to be reopened until the soldiers were released. They also stressed that they had vowed not to withdraw or abandon their sit-in until a solution acceptable to the abductees’ families was reached. Furthermore, protesters chanted slogans condemning President Mohammed Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie; among them, “Sell, sell O Badie, our children’s blood is not for sale,” and “Rise O Morsi, good day to you, our children are dying every day.”

The Egyptian presidency tried yesterday [May 20] to distance itself from this most prominent and insulting of incidents to the security agencies, which raised a storm of criticism, especially after a videotape was broadcast showing the abducted soldiers pleading with the president and defense minister to secure their release. Toward that end, the presidency conducted consultative meetings, most notably the one that brought together Morsi with Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam, Ahmed el-Tayeb, and Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abdel Karim, along with a number of ministers.

Morsi’s meeting with Islamist parties, the day before last [May 19], did not lead to any result, except some statements promising to work toward solving the crisis, and calls for patience in order to overcome this ordeal.

But the presidency tried to remedy the situation through its official spokesman, Omar Amer, who described the video as “shameful.”

Without mincing his words, Amer said: “We reject this act and our response will come through decisive measures.” But he did not clarify what those measures would be and who would coordinate between them. He also refused to talk about the sharp disagreement brewing between the presidency and the security and armed forces.

The presidential spokesman also denied the news that has been circulating lately about the presidency negotiating with the kidnappers. “We have not negotiated with anyone, neither directly nor indirectly. We have said that all options were open and the goal is to secure the release of the soldiers,” Amer stated.

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Found in: kidnappings, sinai, security, grand imam dr. ahmed al-tayeb
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