“State of Sinai” militants staged multiple attacks at security checkpoints in Sheikh Zuweid on Wednesday, followed by an intensive fight between the army and militants in the North Sinai city, leaving unconfirmed numbers of deaths on both sides.
The fighting was ongoing at the time of print, as reported by the military spokesperson. The latest official army numbers were not announced at time of print.
Health Ministry spokesperson Hossam Abdel Ghaffar refused to give Daily News Egypt a prompt count of the deaths, saying “only the military spokesperson is authorised to speak of army casualties”.
Media outlets have reported conflicting reports on the number of casualties, ranging between 30 and 70 deaths, most of them citing official medical sources.
During the day, militants managed to surround Sheikh Zuweid police station.
“We are under siege, the militants didn’t storm inside it so far; the town hasn’t fallen in the hands of militants or else I wouldn’t be speaking to you right now,” Colonel Mohamed Soliman told Daily News Egypt in a phone call from inside the station.
Later in the afternoon, he said police were attempting to break through, and gunfire was heard on the background.
Soliman could not provide details on the numbers of casualties in Sheikh Zuweid, but confirmed that several policemen died at the checkpoint outside the police station.
The clashes erupted between armed forces and “Islamic State” affiliated group, “State of Sinai”, starting 6:30 am Wednesday morning.
Around midday, Sinai-based journalist Mostafa Singer told Daily News Egypt that “Sheikh Zuweid is currently out of security control”.
Among the checkpoints attacked were Al-Refaie, Al-Masoura and Al-Sadot. According to news reports, all security personnel in the Al-Refaie checkpoint were killed.
Lands mines were reportedly planted on roads in Sheikh Zuweid, preventing support from reaching the trapped security forces in the city.
Soliman said they asked for outside support, but at the time of the call (2 pm), support had not arrived yet. Later, media reported that attempts to break the siege were succeeding.
The armed forces posted photos taken from above while targeting militant’s vehicles with a fighter jet. The quality of the photos made it difficult to extract any details from them.
Contrary to earlier military reports, North Sinai militants said in statements, that went viral through social media accounts affiliated with the group, that they have hit more than 15 security targets, most of which are checkpoints.
A North Sinai resident said that the attacks, which all occurred at the same time, were some of “the biggest in Sheikh Zuweid”. He added that the ambulances carrying the injured and the deaths are unable to move as they are trapped in the area of the Sheikh Zuweid police station.
The resident said the road between Al-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid was blocked, and that there are reports of a large number of deaths on both sides. Many civilians lost their lives as a result of the clashes, he added.