CAIRO: Within hours of Egypt's elected President being overthrown this month, militant fellow Islamists in the Sinai peninsula were talking of making war on Cairo's security forces.
               
Scarcely had a video surfaced on YouTube of hundreds of men chanting "No to peace!", than police and troops were attacked in El Arish and other North Sinai towns. Ten have now been killed across the province since Mohamed Morsi was toppled on July 3.
               
The desert peninsula has long been a security headache for Egypt and its neighbours. Large and empty, it borders Israel and the Gaza Strip and flanks the Suez Canal linking Asia to Europe. It is also home to nomad clans disaffected with rule from Cairo.
               
By adding to anger and seeming to confirm low expectations of democracy among Islamist militants who viewed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood as too moderate, the president's removal by the army has brought new violence to Sinai. It may presage more, if the fiery rhetoric of various hardline groups is any guide.
               
Targets this month, in addition to Egyptian security posts near the Suez Canal and the Gaza frontier, have included: a Christian priest, shot dead in the Mediterranean port of El Arish; a gas pipeline to Jordan; and the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat, where remains of a rocket were found.
               
Egypt's armed forces are on high alert, though military sources play down talk of a major offensive. Such an operation might require Israeli approval - due to their 1979 peace treaty. And some experts say the Egyptian army is less than ideally equipped and trained for a counter-insurgency drive.
               
Despite banner headlines in a state-run newspaper this weekend declaring a new assault on Sinai militants in the coming days, army sources are playing down the possibility of a major operation in the near term. Resources are already stretched.
               
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief journalists on the sensitive issue, said troops in Sinai were already on heightened alert.
               
If the army were to want to be more assertive, it might need to re-equip. The Abrams tanks and F-16 fighter jets it buys with USD 1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid are not ideal for fighting small groups of international jihadist militants and their local Bedouin allies in remote, rugged terrain.
               
Army sources estimate there are around 1,000 armed militants in Sinai, divided into different groups with varying ideologies. They are spread over a region twice the size of Belgium but with only half a million residents, concentrated in coastal resorts.

(Agencies)

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