CAIRO — Egypt showed new toughness Wednesday in confronting militants in the restive Sinai peninsula, with the military launching overnight airstrikes and President Mohammed Morsi ordering a security shake-up.
The assault marked the first time Egyptian fighter planes have carried out strikes in the region since the end of the country's war with Israel in 1973. They appear to have been carried out with the blessing of Israel, which has pushed Egypt to aggressively tackle the rise of extremism along its border.
The strikes on Egyptian soil killed at least 20 suspected militants, Egyptian state television reported. They came two days after armed militants in the Sinai killed 16 members of Egypt's security forces, broke through the border into Israel and attempted to launch a separate attack there. It was the deadliest attack against Egyptian soldiers since the 1979 Camp David peace agreement with Israel.
Among security officials fired by Morsi on Wednesday for their handling of the attack were Egypt's intelligence chief, Murad Mowafi, and the governor of North Sinai province, Abdel Wahab Mabrouk; the president also ordered his defense minister to relieve the head of the country's military police, a spokesman said.
The steps signaled a clear, if belated, acknowledgment from Morsi, Egypt's first Islamist president, that Islamist militants who have taken root in the Sinai posed a significant challenge to Egypt.
Morsi is under heavy pressure to endorse a crushing crackdown on militants in the region, but any missteps or abuses could trigger a backlash from Islamists, his main political base.
Information from McClatchy Newspapers was used in this report.