At least 59 people have been killed by Egyptian forces, and another 142 have been arrested, in what Cairo describes as counter-terrorism operations in the north of the Sinai Peninsula.
In a statement yesterday the military confirmed the deaths of seven Egyptian soldiers in the clashes, adding that 56 vehicles allegedly containing weapons and ammunition were destroyed in the Western desert, as well as several tunnels that they asserted were used by fighters.
No time period for the recent operation was specified, with the Defence Ministry also claiming that they had thwarted the journeys of 2,189 people attempting to illegally cross the Egyptian border. The ministry’s narrative could not be verified independently due to the stringent controls in the region preventing most media access.
Egypt has been conducting a long-running campaign in the Sinai governorate, allegedly against Daesh militants. However the operation has witnessed thousands of human rights violations, with the military accused of indiscriminately bombing civilian areas and conducting thousands of extra-judicial killings of residents, regardless of their affiliation.
Nearly 420,000 people in four north-eastern cities are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance due to the ongoing battle, according to Human Rights Watch, with the military also known to be using US-manufactured cluster bombs in civilian areas.
Last month, images emerged that indicated that the Egyptian military had been staging photos of those killed by the military to support the claim that they were militants. Separate images show a man laid face down, with a gun placed next to him after his death. The images cast doubt on Egypt’s claim that it had killed 40 “terrorists” that were allegedly behind an attack on a tourist bus in Giza, near Egypt’s iconic pyramids just days before.
In May, controversy was also stirred after a leaked video appeared to show a child being executed by an Egyptian army officer in the eastern peninsula. Though the killing took place in 2015, the video surfaced after being sent to Egyptian activist Haitham Ghoneim. Ghoneim drew attention to a statement posted on Twitter earlier in 2018 which showed a picture of what appears to be the same boy with bomb-making equipment placed next to his body, suggesting the photo had also been doctored.
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Journalists and activists who have reported on the situation in the Sinai governorate have faced severe reprisals for their reporting; in September, the house of Mekameleen TV presenter Hossam El-Shorbagy was set on fire by Egyptian soldiers in retribution for his reports on state sanctioned killings.
Egypt has been battling a limited Daesh insurgency since mid-2013, when Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, was ousted and imprisoned in a military coup. Since coming to power, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has ruled Egypt with an iron fist, sanctioning extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and a crackdown on the press.