Egypt Detains 500 in Massive Search for Militants in Sinai

Israel delays inking Philadelphi deployment deal with Egypt.

Egyptian police detained 500 people for questioning Monday in a massive search for militants in Sinai following a series of terrorist attacks in the peninsula, security officials said.

About 3,500 police, backed by at least 20 armored cars, took part in the operation. Some officers went from house to house in el-Arish, the principal town in northeast Sinai and about 40 kilometers from the Gaza Strip. Others fanned out into the desert.

Most of the 500 were detained in el-Arish, where the sweep began at dawn, said a security official. The official added that many detainees were taken in for questioning and are not expected to be charged.

Sinai has been the scene of several major terrorist attacks during the past year. On July 23, three bombs exploded in the south Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheik, killing at least 68 people. In October last year, suicide bombers in Taba and another east Sinai resort killed 34 people.

Last week a roadside bomb slightly wounded two Canadian members of the Multinational Force and Observers in north Sinai.

Monday's operation is not connected to the current deployment of 750 Egyptian security forces along the Gaza-Egypt border. Those forces are intended to prevent arms smuggling across the border after Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces have often clashed with Palestinian arms smugglers along the Gaza-Egypt border and have destroyed dozens of smuggler tunnels.

Israel and Egypt have concluded the drafting of an agreement on the deployment of Egyptian border guards in the area of the Philadelphi route in Rafah to monitor arms smuggling.

The agreement, however, has yet to be presented to the cabinet and Knesset for their approval in light of an Israeli demand that Egypt undertake not to transfer arms and ammunition to the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip.

The agreement in its current form covers only the prevention of terror, smuggling and infiltrations in the area and does not deal with the handing over of arms to an official entity, such as the PA's security forces.