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Home / News / World /  Egypt forces attack Sinai militants as Islamists ready rallies

Cairo: Egyptian helicopter gunships killed at least eight suspected militants in the restive north Sinai, while supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi geared up to rally against the government that replaced his.

Separately, a military court in the port city of Suez sentenced 11 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to life in prison for attacking armed forces personnel, and 45 others received five-year sentences, the state-run Ahram Gate reported. The ruling dealt another blow to the Islamist group that backed Morsi as it faces the toughest crackdown against it in decades.

The early morning air strikes near the north Sinai town of Sheik Zuweyid, the military court convictions and the planned rally for Morsi are part of a broad set of political challenges and divisions confronting Egypt. The interim government, backed by the military, has vowed to press ahead with a transition to democracy while the Islamists argue Morsi was toppled in a 3 July military coup that robbed Egyptians of their hopes for a democratic state. Morsi is to stand trial on charges of inciting violence that led to the death of protesters.

Since Morsi’s ouster, the military has stepped up its efforts in Sinai, a desert peninsula that had grown increasingly lawless under the Islamist president. Militants have struck almost daily at security forces, police stations and other installations in an eruption of violence that included the killing of 25 policemen last month. The man allegedly behind the attack, Adel Habara, was arrested and ordered jailed for 15 days pending investigations, the prosecutor-general’s office said in a faxed statement.

Helicopter strike

The Apache helicopter strike targeted suspected militants, Mohamed Saeed, head of criminal investigation in the region, said by phone. The operation also destroyed arms caches belonging to the insurgents, Ahram Gate reported, citing an unidentified military official. Twenty other militants were injured, state-run Middle East News Agency reported.

In tandem with its offensive in Sinai, the government has pushed ahead with a campaign against the Brotherhood, arresting hundreds of its members, including top leaders. Clashes after police broke up pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo last month sparked violence killed about 1,000 people, most in the span of a week.

The declaration of a state of emergency last month, a curfew that’s been gradually relaxed and stepped-up efforts by security forces have all curbed the Brotherhood’s ability to draw into the streets the masses it mustered for earlier demonstrations.

Roads closed

Ahead of Tuesday’s planned rallies, authorities closed off main roads leading to two major Cairo squares, to try to prevent protesters from gathering in a single location.

Officials have also put Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television in its sights. A Cairo administrative court ordered the station’s local affiliate off the air today, along with three other channels authorities said were spreading lies and defaming the will of Egyptians by saying Morsi’s ouster was a coup, MENA reported, citing the court ruling. Al-Jazeera is owned by the Qatar government, which had backed Morsi during his one year in office.

Days earlier, several Cabinet ministers said the Al-Jazeera affiliate represented a threat to national security and ordered action be taken against it, arguing it was operating without the necessary approval.

The local affiliate’s correspondent in the Nile delta city of Beni Suef, Mohamed Rabea, was ordered held 15 days pending investigation into allegations including inciting violence and burning and looting a police station. Rabea also served as the head of the press office of the Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, in the city, the prosecutor-general’s office said in a statement. BLOOMBERG

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