Eleven Egyptian soldiers were killed on Saturday attempting to thwart a “terrorist” attack on the Suez Canal zone abutting the Sinai Peninsula, a hotbed of extremist activity, the army said.
It was the heaviest loss the army had suffered in years in its long-running campaign in and around the Sinai against militants loyal to ISIS.
Five soldiers were also wounded in the firefight on the eastern, Sinai bank of the canal, the army said, adding that security forces “are continuing to chase the terrorists and surround them in an isolated area of the Sinai.”
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi mourned the death of the troops, vowing in a Facebook post to continue fighting the militants and “uprooting terrorism.”
The militants ambushed troops guarding the pumping facility, before fleeing to the desert in Northern Sinai, according to the residents who spoke on condition of anonymity for their safety.
Two Northern Sinai residents said the attack took place in the town of Qantara in the province of Ismailia, which stretches eastward from the Suez Canal.
No group claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack.
Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has been gripped by an armed insurgency for more than a decade, which peaked after the ouster of late president Mohammed Morsi in 2013.
In February 2018, the army and police launched a nationwide operation against militants focused on North Sinai.
More than a thousand suspected militants and dozens of security personnel have been killed since the start of operations, according to official figures.
In November, Egypt agreed with Israel to boost its troop numbers around the border town of Rafah in order to quell ISIS militants.
In August, the army said 13 militants had been killed and nine of its soldiers were “killed or wounded” during clashes in Sinai, without indicating when the fighting had taken place.
In recent years, pipelines carrying Egyptian oil and gas to neighboring Israel and Jordan have been the primary focus of insurgent attacks.