AL-ARISH/CAIRO: Joint army and police forces arrested 10 suspects west of Al-Arish during the early hours of Tuesday over suspicion of conducting armed attacks in the province last month, national security advisor General Sherif Ismail told Daily News Egypt.
Separately, one suspect and one security member were killed a little after dawn in an exchange of gunfire as the former attempted to cross a checkpoint also west of Al-Arish, the capital of North Sinai, Ismail added.
No further details were available about whether the member of security belonged to the police or the army.
According to Ismail, the joint military and police operations in the province will go on until security is restored.
According to report by the French Press Agency (AFP), the army on Tuesday arrested four gunmen in Sinai as they prepared to detonate a device near the pipeline to Israel near the city of Al-Arish.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the group of four was part of the 10 Ismail was referring to.
"Security guards near the terminal informed the army of suspicious movements," AFP quoted a security source as saying. "Members of the armed forces, backed by armored cars, immediately headed to the region and managed to encircle the four."
Automatic weapons and an explosive device have been seized and the four are being interrogated, he added.
The pipeline to Israel has been targeted five times this year and the Egyptian army and police have launched a joint operation in the Sinai against the attackers who have also attacked a police station in Al-Arish.
Earlier on Monday, joint forces had detained a 14-member cell during the first day of intensive security operations in the province near their hideouts in Al-Arish, killing one.
The detainees were mainly fugitives who broke out of prisons in the aftermath of the security vacuum in the early days of the January 25 uprising. Unconfirmed reports claimed they included four Palestinians.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement hours after the raid that the forces seized three machine guns, four grenades, 12 cartridges, ammunition, documents and number plates of cars in the cell members’ possession.
On Friday, hundreds of army and police forces in armored vehicles and tanks were deployed in and around North Sinia, around vital buildings in the province and across the border with the blockaded Gaza Strip. At the time, there was no official confirmation as to their actual security task in the area.
On Monday, Israeli public radio said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had approved Egypt’s request to increase the number of troops in the Sinai to "restore order" in the region.
The number of Egyptian forces in the peninsula are limited by the terms of the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty.
Ismail said the forces currently deployed in North Sinai will reopen the police stations in the towns of Rafah and Sheikh Zewaid previously closed by the residents during the uprising.
The next step, he added, would be to enforce law and seek outlaws in Central Sinai.
"The army and police forces had previously directed tribal leaders to inform local residents that anyone ordered to stop and [does not obey] will be shot," Sheikh Hassan Khalaf, the tribal judge of the town of Sheikh Zewaid t,old DNE.
"I fully support the revolution; but it seems there are hidden parties who are the behind the security vacuum in the province," Khalaf said.
On July 29, dozens of armed men attacked a police station in Al-Arish and exchanged fire with security forces. The attack resulted in the death of one police officer, one army officer and a low-ranking policeman. Twelve police officers and 10 civilians were also injured in the crossfire.
Clashes continued until the early hours of July 30, before unidentified gunmen attacked, for the fifth time since February, a natural gas pipeline located about 15 kilometers from Al-Arish. The pipeline delivers gas to Israel and Jordan.
Egypt supplies about 40 percent of Israel’s natural gas used to produce electricity. Egyptian political forces had frequently slammed the former regime for entering into a deal with Israel and selling the gas at below market prices.
Ousted president Hosni Mubarak is currently facing trial over several charges including corruption in the gas deal to Israel which led to losses of revenue worth over $700 million.
Masked men had earlier attempted to damage a statue of the late president Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated by Islamist militants in 1981, a few years after he signed the peace treaty with Israel.
On the same day, others attacked the holy Shrine of Sheikh Zewaid in the town carrying the same name.
Extremist groups believe that building statues of human figures and shrines is prohibited by Islam.
The July 29 attacks coincided with peaceful protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and other parts of Egypt held by tens of thousands of Islamists to reiterate their call for establishing an Islamic state and rejecting the supra-constitutional principles proposed by secular political groups.
A few days after the July attacks, a group naming itself the El-Qaeda Network in Sinai Peninsula, released a statement that demanded the province be turned into an Islamic Caliphate.
The group urged the Egyptian army to breach the Camp David Peace Accords and interfere to end the siege on Gaza.