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Security source, eyewitnesses: 3 soldiers killed in militant checkpoint attack claimed by Province of Sinai

Three members of Egypt’s Armed Forces were killed on Wednesday at a militant-controlled checkpoint on the main road west of Arish, according to eyewitnesses and a security source.

Province of Sinai, the Islamic State-affiliated militant group, claimed responsibility for the attack through through the Amaq News Agency, its media arm, on Thursday.

Eyewitnesses told Mada Masr that militants set up a checkpoint on the road leading to the entrance of Arish on Wednesday at noon, using a private car and several motorcycles to block traffic. The militants stopped vehicles passing through and checked passengers’ identification documents, searching for police and military personnel, according to eyewitnesses.

A truck carrying two soldiers and a commissioned officer, who were distributing iftar meals to military personnel stationed at checkpoints, were halted at the militant-run checkpoint on Wednesday, according to a security source, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity.

According to eyewitnesses, after the truck was stopped, the approximately 12 militants stationed at the checkpoint opened fire on the vehicle. The security source stated that the militants killed the two soldiers and one officer, who were riding in the truck. According to the eyewitnesses, one of soldiers attempted to flee the scene. However, the militants shot and killed him before he could escape.

The militants then took control of the vehicle and seized the weapons, the security source added.

Armed Forces units were deployed to the militant-controlled checkpoint, where they engaged the militants who carried out the attack, the security source added. After an exchange of fire, the militants detonated two explosive devices and retreated into the desert area south of the city.

On Thursday, local media outlets reported on funeral processions for two soldiers killed in Arish: Mohamed al-Beily from Kafr al-Sheikh and Taha Abul Maaty from Daqahliya. The security source who spoke to Mada Masr identified the officer killed as Moaz Rashad.

Militant activity intensified in the area between the towns of Midan and Rawda, which are west of Arish, after the Province of Sinai established several checkpoints on the main road in late 2017, using them to abduct and kill security forces and civilians. Most recently, three security personnel and one civilian were killed in a militant-run checkpoint near the Sebeika district in January.

Wednesday’s attack is the first of its kind in the area since the Armed Forces announced a large-scale operation targeting militants in Sinai in February. Authorities have restricted mobility within and outside of North Sinai since the beginning of the military campaign, known as Operation Sinai 2018.

Two Arish residents were also killed in the city in the last week by unidentified armed individuals aged between 15-18, according to eyewitnesses.

The first victim, an engineer working in the traffic directorate in Arish, was killed in front of his residence last Saturday. The second, an elderly man, was killed in front of a grocery shop he owned on Monday. No group has claimed responsibility for either incident.

Following the two incidents, there was increased security presence in downtown Arish, with additional military vehicles stationed around the city.

The only natural gas station in Arish, which operates under the supervision of the Armed Forces, was also closed indefinitely on Wednesday. On the same day, North Sinai’s main road was closed, as well as the checkpoint allowing entry into the governorate from neighboring Suez.

The new restrictions have led to the halt of taxi services inside the city and the return to the use of pickup trucks for transportation, as was the case when the military operation began in February.

In the last two days, markets in Arish have witnessed increased activity as residents stock up on reserves of basic necessities in fear of an increased siege on the city.

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