Egypt reports successes in Sinai operation against militants

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The army destroyed 66 jihadist hideouts, 11 pickup vehicles and 31 motorbikes, he said in a statement.

A major operation was launched on Friday with Egyptian ground, air and naval forces along with border guards and police on the hunt - possibly with the help of Israel.

Apart from Sinai, the Egyptian army said the operation would also cover parts of the Nile Delta and the Western Desert, where other militants have waged attacks, some believed to be staged out of neighbouring Libya.

In November, Sisi ordered his armed forces chief of staff to restore security in Sinai within three months after militants killed more than 300 worshippers at a mosque.

Relations between Egypt and Israel have improved dramatically since the army ousted Islamist Mohamed Morsi from the presidency in July, 2013.

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A total of 16 militants were killed, it said, and four militants were captured.

It also discovered and destroyed an explosives-making laboratory and a communications centre, as well as six cannabis and opium fields, he said. The Sinai borders Israel and the Gaza Strip and has always been a bastion for Islamic insurgent groups tied to al-Qaida. They are blamed for a series of bomb, gun and suicide attacks that have killed hundreds in Egypt.

In the first part of 2017 IS stepped up attacks against Christians in Sinai and elsewhere in Egypt, claiming two deadly attacks on churches in Tanta and Alexandria on 9 April.

Since 2014, North Sinai has seen an increase in conflict between the army and police and Sinai Province-previously known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis before it announced its allegiance to the Islamic State.

The comprehensive anti-terror operation "Sinai 2018" comes weeks before Egypt starts its 2018 presidential elections scheduled for late March, where incumbent President Sisi is expected to make an easy win for a second term due to the lack of strong challengers in the race.

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