EL-ARISH, Egypt – Egypt on Wednesday withdrew some of the tanks it deployed near the Israeli and Gaza borders as part of a military operation against militants in the Sinai Peninsula.
The tank deployment earlier this month had brought complaints from Israel since the peace treaty between the two countries bans such heavy weapons from a zone along the border. Israel had quietly agreed to Egypt sending thousands of troops into the area — also barred under the treaty — to fight militants, but it had not consented to the tanks.
Nearly a dozen tanks that had been stationed near the Rafah border crossing into Gaza were seen heading out of northern Sinai on Wednesday afternoon. Military officials told The Associated Press they were returning to their base in Ismailiya, just on the other side of the Suez Canal from Sinai.
With the withdrawal, nearly 40 tanks remain in the border zone. The officials gave no reason for the pullback. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the deployment.
The head of security in Port Said, Sameh Radwan, said security was being reinforced along the Suez Canal after threats the strategic waterway could be targeted in retaliation for the offensive, according to the state news agency MENA. An adviser to the Suez Canal authorities, Mahmoud Abdel-Wahab, played down talk of specific threats, saying it was natural reinforcements would be deployed on the canal when a military operation was ongoing nearby.
Egypt's military on Wednesday said it is pushing ahead with its offensive against Islamic militants in the volatile peninsula, after reports of talks of a truce. The offensive was triggered by a brazen attack on Aug. 5 near Egypt's border with Gaza and Israel, when masked militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers before crossing into Israel, where they were shot dead.
Ultraconservative Salafi Muslims and other radical groups have said they reached an arrangement with mediators from the government by which the offensive would be suspended to avoid an escalation by militants, who are thought to be extremist jihadis, some inspired by al-Qaida. The government has not commented on any attempts to reach a deal.
The state news agency MENA quoted an unidentified military official saying the offensive is still in progress and that 11 militants have been killed so far.
"We will continue to chase the terrorists," the official said, according to MENA.
On Wednesday, explosives were found inside a bag and planted next to Sinai University in the northern city of el-Arish near Egypt's border with Gaza and Israel, according to a security official.
Bomb experts defused the device, which included land mines and gasoline and was wired to explode.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.