CAIRO: The Islamic State group in Egypt claimed on Tuesday that its fighters killed and wounded 20 Egyptian soldiers in four days of clashes in northern Sinai.
In a statement posted on a pro-IS website, the Egyptian affiliate of the Sunni militant group said the fighting took place south of the coastal city of el-Arish and that the militants also destroyed two tanks, a Humvee and two other military vehicles.
There was no immediate comment from the Egyptian government on the claim, and the restive area of the Sinai Peninsula is off limits to the media.
Security forces have been battling IS-led militants in Sinai for years, but the insurgency has grown deadlier and more widespread since the 2013 ouster by the military of Egypt’s former Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi.
Following a spate of deadly attacks blamed on IS, Egypt recently stepped up security operations south of el-Arish and the desert beyond, saying many militants were killed and that weapons, ammunition and explosives were seized.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has described the fighting in Sinai as a “harsh war” that Egypt is fighting alone, and last week called on Egyptians to stand together against terrorism.
Separately, a Christian supermarket owner in el-Arish was gunned down on Monday night by suspected militants, the latest in a series of killings by IS targeting members of Egypt’s Christian minority in Sinai.
Wael Milad was shot inside his supermarket, after which his killers fled to the olive orchards south of the city, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
Last summer, IS gunned down a priest, Rafael Moussa, in el-Arish’s industrial area as he waited for his car to be repaired.
Egypt is home to one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, with Coptic Christians accounting for roughly 10 percent of its 92 million people. They have long complained of discrimination at the hands of the Muslim majority.
Nearly 30 Christians, mostly women, were killed in December when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a packed Cairo church in an attack claimed by IS. Also in December, a suspected militant killed a Christian storeowner with a kitchen knife outside his liquor and candy shop in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. Islam prohibits consumption of alcohol.