CAIRO — The Egyptian military has taken the upper hand in a two-month-old campaign to rid Sinai of Islamist militants, repairing a "security collapse" after the revolution of January 2011, a spokesman said Sunday.
"The last week included a decisive confrontation with elements that threaten national security," the spokesman, Col. Ahmed Ali, said in a televised news conference to discuss the continuing campaign.
The persistent security vacuum in the Sinai Desert near the Israeli border has been a growing worry for officials in Cairo, Tel Aviv and Washington, all concerned that the region is turning into a terrorist haven.
But in the news conference Sunday, Ali said that in the past two weeks, the "military forces started taking action against terrorists instead of merely reacting to terrorist attacks" and attained "our highest rates for successfully achieving our targets."
He said the military had detained 309 "terrorists," including 36 in July, 140 in August and 33 in September. The military had stormed 601 houses, seized seven weapons storehouses, confiscated 203 vehicles and captured 10 tons of explosives, he said.
Ali also pointed fingers at Hamas, the militant Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that controls Gaza, signaling a renewed chill in Egyptian relations with Hamas after a period of warming under Morsi. Ali suggested several times that some of the militants in the Egyptian Sinai had ties to Hamas or the Palestinians, including reporting that the army had seized grenades and other equipment stamped with "Qassam Battalions," the name of Hamas' military wing.
The army has now destroyed more than 150 tunnels used for smuggling to and from Gaza, Ali said. It appeared to be a continuation of an on-again, off-again military campaign begun under Morsi, when the army also sought to shut down the tunnels and filled some with sewage.