CAIRO — Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 24 Egyptian policemen today in the Sinai peninsula, where attacks on security forces have multiplied since the army overthrew President Mohamed Mursi on July 3.
Three policemen were also wounded in the grenade and machinegun attack near the north Sinai town of Rafah on the border with Israel, medical and security sources said.
The attack underlined the challenges facing Egypt’s new rulers, locked in a struggle with Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood in which at least 850 people have been killed since the security forces opened fire at pro-Mursi protest camps last week.
The authorities portray their campaign as a fight against terrorism. The Brotherhood renounced violence decades ago and denies any links with armed militants, including those in Sinai who gained strength since autocrat Hosni Mubarak fell in 2011.
Mounting insecurity in Sinai also worries the United States because the area lies next to Israel and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, as well as the Suez Canal.
At least 36 Islamists died in government custody yesterday, in an incident that the Brotherhood described as “murder” and the authorities said was a thwarted jailbreak.
“The murders show the violations and abuses that political detainees who oppose the July 3 coup get subjected to,” said the Brotherhood.
The Interior Ministry said 36 Brotherhood detainees had been suffocated by tear gas during an attempted prison breakout near Cairo. A legal source said 38 men had died from asphyxiation in the back of a crammed police van.
Egypt’s descent into the bloodiest internal conflict in its modern history is causing global jitters, but no consensus on how to respond has emerged in the West or the Arab world.
European Union diplomats were due to meet in Brussels to review how best to leverage some ‚5 billion of promised grants and loans, looking to apply pressure on Cairo’s army-backed government to find a compromise. (Reuters)