CAIRO (Ma’an) -- The Egyptian army said on Monday that five Egyptian soldiers were killed Sunday evening in the central Sinai Peninsula, with a security source telling Ma'an the five were killed after gunmen opened fire at a vehicle in which the soldiers were traveling.
One soldier inside the vehicle survived the shooting, while the gunmen managed to escape, according to the anonymous source, who added that the bodies of slain soldiers were taken to Suez general hospital by Egyptian ambulances.
"The armed forces mourn with deep sorrow and grief the five martyrs who were martyred in Sinai at the hands of members of takfiri groups, the enemies of our homeland and religion," an Egyptian army spokesperson said in a statement, using a term to describe fundamentalist militant groups, without elaborating on the cause of the soldier's deaths.
Egyptian military and police forces have been the target of ongoing attacks, which have increased since Egyptian President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi took power from Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.
The Egyptian president came under attack following his violent suppression of Muslim Brotherhood members following his rise to power, which al-Sisi has argued is necessary to deter future attacks in the Sinai and across Egypt.
Egyptian security sources told Ma'an on Sunday that militants connected to the so-called Islamic State under the local affiliate group the Sinai Province blew up two transmission towers in the Sinai Peninsula on Saturday evening, while in northern Sinai two Egyptian policemen were reportedly injured during clashes with unidentified gunmen. Last Monday, sources said that a Palestinian was killed and two Egyptians were injured after a bomb exploded in front of an auto shop in al-Arish, with the coastal city reportedly being targeted by a suicide bombing a week prior.
Al-Sisi said earlier this month that 25,000 soldiers were deployed in northern Sinai to fight the militants, a previously undisclosed figure that seemed to underline the magnitude of the conflict.
According to a report from Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Egyptian government said that its counter-terrorism operations in North Sinai killed at least 3,091 “terrorists” between January and July 2015, with HRW noting that the government did not allow independent observers into the area of fighting and did not acknowledge any civilian deaths in the Sinai, while the Egyptian government has barred journalists from reporting on events in Sinai. Amid the violence, Egyptian authorities have also been accused of heavy-handed tactics, including collective punishment following deadly attacks, by imposing curfews and a state of emergency, and even ordering the destruction of hundreds of homes skirting Sinai’s border with the besieged Gaza Strip.