CAIRO — Masked gunmen stormed an Egyptian army barracks in the northern Sinai Peninsula, near the country's border with Israel, on Sunday, killing at least 16 soldiers who were preparing to break their Ramadan fast, officials said.
After the attack, the militants seized armored vehicles and tried to infiltrate Israel, according to Egyptian and Israeli officials. An Israeli military spokesman said that one vehicle exploded at the border, and another was struck by the Israeli air force.
There were no claims of responsibility for the attack, which represented the deadliest assault on Egyptian soldiers in recent memory. Egyptian officials have voiced growing concern about militants in the Sinai Peninsula who have seized on the power vacuum after the Egyptian uprising in 2011 and now operate with growing impunity.
The attack was also likely to add further tension to Egypt's relationship with Israel. Israeli officials have become increasingly critical of the security lapses in the border region. In June, an Arab citizen of Israel was killed after gunmen from Egypt crossed over the border.
Egypt's new president, Mohammed Morsi, called an emergency meeting of the country's senior generals on Sunday, state media reported. Later on Sunday, there were reports of ongoing clashes in Egypt, about 12 miles from the border.
An unnamed Egyptian security official, speaking on state television, blamed the attacks on militants who had crossed into Egypt from Gaza along with groups operating in the Sinai, though he did not provide any evidence for that claim. Speaking on Al-Jazeera on Sunday night, Mahmoud el-Zahar, a spokesman for Hamas, the Islamist group that governs the Gaza Strip, condemned the killings of the soldiers and said the group had nothing to do with the attacks.
An Egyptian official said some of the gunmen abandoned one of the armored vehicles near the Israeli border crossing after Israeli soldiers fired on it. An Israeli government spokesman said seven "terrorists" were killed near the border, though Egyptian officials did not report that any of the gunmen had been killed or captured.