Egypt Says Sinai Campaign Coordinated With Israel, Doesn’t Violate Peace Treaty

Official says Egyptian forces have killed 32 people, arrested 38 and destroyed 31 tunnels along the border with Gaza.

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Egypt's military spokesman says Cairo has coordinated its ongoing offensive in the Sinai peninsula with Israel and that the campaign does not violate the two nations' peace treaty.

Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali also told reporters Saturday that five weeks into the operation Egyptian forces have killed 32 people, arrested 38 and destroyed 31 tunnels along the border with Gaza. He did not provide details on those killed or detained.

Egypt launched the offensive following an Aug. 5 militant attack near the border with Israel and Gaza that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers.

The operation has included unprecedented numbers of troops and heavy weapons in Sinai, chunks of which are demilitarized according to the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

Weapons were also seized and around 31 tunnels used for smuggling between Egypt and the Gaza Strip were destroyed, Colonel AhmedMohammed Ali told reporters.

The tunnels were being used to smuggle weapons, he said. Unmanned drones, automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and ammunition were seized in the operation.

Suspected Islamist gunmen attacked an army checkpoint on August 5, killing 16 soldiers.

The military launched an operation codenamed Nisr (Eagle) and later changed to Operation Sinai.

Israel had reportedly expressed concern over the heightened military presence near its border, as tanks were deployed in areaswhere Egypt's military presence is strictly limited by the country's 1979 treaty with Israel, according to Ali however, Egypt and Israel have been coordinating in the operation, which would continue until its goals are achieved.

"Egypt is coordinating with the Israeli side over the presence of armed forces in Sinai," he said. "The deployment of the armed forceson all the territory of Sinai is not a violation of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel."

While the government insists that the campaign against the militants continues, observers suggest the focus is increasingly on mediation efforts led by a delegation of Salafist sheikhs sent to the region by President Mohammed Morsi.

Over the past two weeks, security sources have reported that tanks were withdrawn from areas near the borders, and were to be replaced by smaller armored vehicles.

Morsi held a meeting with Defense Minister Abdul-Fatah al-Sissi on Saturday to discuss developments in Sinai, presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said.

Since the ouster last year of Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, Islamist militants are believed to have been responsible for several attacks on a Sinai pipeline that exports gas to Israel, as well as raids on police stations in the mountainous desert peninsula.

Egyptian border guards patrol near the border with Israel in Rafah, Egypt on Aug. 6, 2012.Credit: AP