Attacks come two days after assassination of top prosecutor
Islamic militants have killed at least 50 soldiers in a wave of simultaneous attacks, including a suicide car bombing, on numerous Egyptian army checkpoints in the northern Sinai peninsula on 1 July.
Clashes reportedly continued during the afternoon of 1 July around Sheikh Zuweid, Al-Arish and Rafah, coastal towns near the border between Egypt and Gaza, with unconfirmed reports of militants roaming the streets of Sheikh Zuweid.
The attacks have been claimed by Sinai Province, the Egyptian militant group aligned to Isis (Islamic State), the hardline Sunni terrorists that have seized control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria, and more recently are thought to have been responsible for the deaths of 38 tourists on a Tunisian beach on 26 June.
The Sinai region has witnessed frequent violence since the removal of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi two years ago, and the ensuing state crackdown of his now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement. Over the last two years militants have killed at least 600 soliders and police officers in the troubled peninsula.
The 1 July attacks come just two days after militants killed Egypt's top public prosecutor Hisham Barakat in a car bomb attack on 29 June, in the eastern Heliopolis district of Cairo. Egyptian president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi subsequently declared a day of mourning on 30 June, and cancelled the planned 1 July celebrations to mark the anniversary of the unrest that led to Morsi's overthrow.
Barakat was the most senior state official to be assassinated by militants since Morsi was removed from office on 3 July 2013. He was to the forefront in prosecuting Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including Morsi who was sentenced to death in May. Barakat was also influential in the detention of tens of thousands of government critics, becoming a figure of hate for Egypt's opposition.
The clampdown on the Muslim Brotherhood was initiated two years ago by Sisi, who was then Egypt's army chief. Sisi accused the Brotherhood of using militant groups as a front to destabilise the country and immediately set about dismantling the 86-year-old movement. The Brotherhood was declared a terrorist organisation – a charge it denies vehemently – leading to thousands of its members being arrested, hundreds of which subsequently received death sentences.