Militants in northern Sinai.
Militants in northern Sinai. Photo by AFP
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Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is considering calls to amending the Camp David Accords in order to ensure his country's "full sovereignty" over the Sinai Peninsula, his legal adviser, Mohammed Gadallah told Al-Masry Al-Youm in a report published on Tuesday.

The Egyptian Air Force last week struck terrorist targets in Sinai, killing at least 20 suspected militants, in its first attack on the peninsula since 1973.

The air strikes on positions in the town of Sheikh Zouaid followed the deaths of 16 border guards the week before in an attack blamed partly on Palestinian militants. Dozens of soldiers and some 30 tanks were deployed to the area as well.

Also on Tuesday, Egyptian state television reported that gunmen attacked Egyptian troops in the Sinai. The attack occurred in the town of Rafah near the border with the Gaza Strip during a raid on suspected militants, the broadcaster said, citing a security source.

"The gunmen fired on the security forces who exchanged fire with them," it said. No casualty figure was given. On Sunday, gunmen had attacked two security checkpoints in the town of Sheikh Zuwaid in northern Sinai.

The deployment of military planes and helicopters in the region must be coordinated with Israel, and the Egyptian media reported that such coordination was indeed carried out. Egypt announced on the evening of the attack that it intended to preserve its political agreements with Israel.

Approximately four months ago, prior to Morsi's election as president, the heads of the Bedouin tribes in northern Sinai appealed to the Egyptian parliament to amend the Camp David Accords, on the grounds that the agreement does not guarantee national security in the region.

Last May, the Egyptian government was presented with a program to include Bedouin elders in securing northern Sinai and putting a halt attacks on the Israeli-bound-gas pipeline. The plan also stressed a framework for dealing with radical Islamist organizations operating freely in northern and central Sinai.

According to the program, each Bedouin faction or sub-faction would enlist a group of at least twenty young men whose duty would be to patrol and report on any suspicious activities in their respective areas. These men would receive a salary from the security forces and will be incorporated into the regional police force.

Bedouin leaders have demanded the deployment of helicopters to Sinai to track the movements of smugglers and terrorists, as well as an upgrade of the cellular phone network which is today largely dependent on antennae in Gaza and Israel. Yet their most important demand is to open a free trade zone in Sinai and establish an official and open terminal between Sinai and Gaza to replace the current tunnel-based trade routes – a step that would also provide employment to the local Bedouin community.

The Egyptian Parliament and the Supreme Military Council are aware of the security risks in Sinai – a situation that may prompt an Israeli intervention in the peninsula. The Egyptian government has recognized the need for investment in Sinai's resources, and according to local reports has allocated about 100 million dollars for infrastructure, industry and services in the area. However, the funds have yet to be provided, and it is still unclear when they will be officially transferred.

In his interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm, adviser Gadallah also discussed the Morsi's recent decision to reshuffle the defense echelon, emphasizing there was no conflict or disagreement between the president and the army.

"The military council, which reports to the president, should not have legislative powers," he said. The parliament which was dissolved in June will not be reinstated, said Gadallah, but legislative power would rather be moved to a new parliament which should be elected following adoption of the constitution.

Gadallah also said that contrary to prior claims, the military council was not involved in the appointments of the new defense minister and chief of staff. “This is the inherent right of the president as supreme commander of the armed forces,” he said.