President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi put a military unit headed by General Osama Askar in charge of the east side of the Suez Canal, comprising Sinai, in a meeting with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) Saturday.
The meeting follows a series of deadly attacks in North Sinai Thursday.
“The attacks were not the first and will not be the last,” Al-Sisi said in a televised speech addressing the nation on Saturday afternoon.
“It is a long way that people chose to take since 30 June and 3 July, and after that agreed to delegate the army to launch a war on those terrorist groups,” Al-Sisi said.
While final figures remain unannounced, attacks in North Sinai targeted police and military personnel and strategic security installations, leaving at least 30 dead. It had been one of the most violent operations since November.
“Egypt is facing the strongest secret organisation in the world,” Al-Sisi said. Sinai-based militant group ‘State of Sinai’ claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Al-Sisi added that he “was well aware that this was going to happen, and you knew as well that we this organization was strong, trained, funded”, in a clear reference to the Muslim Brotherhood banned organisation and former president Mohamed Morsi’s ouster.
On 30 June and 3 July 2013, “the Egyptian people made a tough and dangerous choice. You made the choice, not somebody else,” Al-Sisi said addressing the public. “This is why I asked for your support in fighting terrorism on 21 July because I was sure this was the path we were going to take.”
On 26 July, thousands took the streets to express their support for the former minister of defence’s call to become their official delegate in the war on terrorism. Since then, continuous operations have been ongoing mostly in North Sinai cities Al-Arish, Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah, closer to the Gaza and Israeli borders.
The president concluded by stating that the war on terrorism was tough, would take a long time and all Egyptians are paying the price during that time. “The army is willing to continue paying the price for Sinai, which will never abandon. You chose and when the Egyptian people choose I strictly abide, whatever that choice is.”
Al-Sisi also stressed upon the importance for Egypt to hold the March Economic Forum calling on people to “work together and unite” in the face of terrorism.
Al-Sisi’s response to the army’s lack of media transparency is that there were times where there was no information circulation in the media about the army for security reasons, such as during the past wars.
Ayman Al-Sissi, researcher in terrorism affairs at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) commented in an interview with ONtv Live channel Saturday that there was a problem between public information and news coverage about the army. Some journalists, he said, can publish details about the army’s moves they know of which can be harmful.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb and Minister of Defence Sedky Sobhy headed a delegation of government officials in a military funeral held for the victims of the attacks, the official military spokesperson reported on his Facebook account.
However, none of the spokesperson’s statements referred to the death toll. Similarly, in a phone call with Daily News Egypt Saturday evening, the Ministry of Health’s official spokesperson Hossam Abdel Ghaffar also denied having announced any of the media’s reported figures in the past two days which ranged between 25 and 30.