AFP – Kidnappers on Wednesday released three Egyptian policemen and four soldiers seized in the Sinai, the army said, leading to the reopening of a Gaza border crossing that police closed to protest the abductions.
“The seven security personnel have been released by their kidnappers in Sinai,” military spokesman Ahmed Aly said in a statement carried by Egypt’s official MENA news agency.
The conscripts, seized at gunpoint last week as they were returning from a leave of absence, were due in Cairo later on Wednesday.
President Mohamed Morsi was expected at the Almaza airforce base, where a host of officials including the ministers of defence and interior were preparing to welcome the seven, presidency sources said.
Their release comes “as a result of efforts by Egyptian military intelligence in coordination with tribal leaders in Sinai,” Aly said.
Shortly after the news of the release, the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip reopened.
Rafah, the Palestinian territory’s sole border crossing for passengers outside of Israeli control, had been closed for five days by Egyptian police angered by the kidnapping of their colleagues.
Egyptian troops and policemen had begun sweeps of north Sinai on Tuesday.
The kidnappers were heavily armed with SAM anti-aircraft missiles and heavy machineguns, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said.
He said on Tuesday there were no negotiations with the kidnappers, who were demanding the release of jailed Bedouin militants, but tribal leaders were working to persuade the gunmen to release the hostages.
Authorities had raised the state of alert in hospitals and emergency services ahead of a possible showdown with the kidnappers.
The capture of the security personnel piled pressure on Morsi, the Islamist president whose 11-month rule has been marked by violent clashes, political turmoil and a devastating economic crisis.
Tension has been running high in the lawless peninsula since the kidnapping which was followed by two attacks on or near police camps in north Sinai.
On Monday, assailants fired heavy weapons for 25 minutes at a police camp in Al-Ahrash, followed later in the day by another attack on the Oja border crossing with Israel, which is also close to a police camp.
Attacks on police and soldiers in the sparsely populated peninsula have surged since an uprising overthrew president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, as have cross-border attacks on Israel.
In August 2012, suspected Islamist gunmen killed 16 Egyptian soldiers near Israel’s border and commandeered an armoured vehicle into Israel, where they were stopped by a helicopter strike.