Cairo: (NVONews.Com) Even as Egypt’s army has killed 32 ‘criminal elements’ in an operation against fighters in the Sinai Peninsula since August 5 killing of 16 Egyptian soldiers efforts are on to hold talks with the groups active in the region.
Disclosing this to reporters in Cairo on Saturday, military spokesperson Colonel Ahmed Mohammed Ali also announced that 38 people had been arrested during “Operation Eagle,” which began on August 7, two days after 16 soldiers were killed at a border post, while they sat to take Iftar. The operation was temporarily halted during the Eid holiday last month, but had since been intensified.
The army spokesman said that many of the captured in the operation were “non-Egyptians.”
“The operation will continue until its goals have been achieved …These are not just military goals but also developmental goals for the Sinai,” Ali said.
The operation in Sinai has unnerved Israel, which had expressed “reservations” over Egypt’s deployment of reinforcements in the peninsula, with which it shares a border.
Egyptian army spokesman, however, insisted that “the deployment of the armed forces, on all the territory of Sinai, is not a violation of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.”
It needs to be recalled that Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said last week he expected the Egyptian army to withdraw its reinforcements from the peninsula at the end of the operation.
There is a strong perception in Egypt that the August 5 killing has nothing to do with any Islamist group, as it was first reported in the western media, but it was the handiwork of “criminal elements”––the term used by army on Saturday. There is also a strong feeling of Mossad’s involvement in it.
Meanwhile, the ongoing dialogue with Sinai-based jihadist groups, launched two weeks ago as the operation’s ‘political arm,’ Nizar Ghorab, former MP for the Gamaa Al-Islamiya’s Construction and Development Party, who is currently spearheading the dialogue campaign, said that a series of meetings were taking place with jihadist and Islamist groups in the area.
He was quoted in Ahram Online a few days back that the first meeting, aimed at pre-empting an unnecessarily heavy-handed security response. “This is why we quickly launched talks with the leaders of these movements––to prevent them from entering into a confrontation with state agencies.”
Ghorab added: “We spent time in prison with these men under the former regime, and thus we appreciate each other. This allows us to maintain dialogue with them, and we reiterate that these groups––including those that have taken up arms––no longer need to do this under the new regime, which we support.”
However, he went on to state that “there are those who still have the same security mentality of the past and do not want to deal with us on this basis. They insist on purging the state of former regime remnants and security elements. We are preparing a report that condemns the security agencies in this regard, even if the battle between jihadists and the old guard is over. The change of regime means a change in outlook and beliefs, and this should also include Islamist and non-Islamist movements.”
During their last meeting, he added, “we established that these groups had nothing to do with the Rafah attack, which was the work of foreign hands sabotaging security in Sinai with the aid of local operatives. There are serious concerns that Israel’s Mossad has infiltrated the region.”
Ghorab went on to say that routine reports on the ongoing dialogue were being submitted to Egypt’s presidency.
“What is almost certain is that these operations––including the Rafah attack – are the work of foreign saboteurs and not Islamists,” he asserted. “All Islamists, including those that belong to armed groups, don’t believe in working against the President, but rather want stability and security.”