By Yusri Mohamed
ISMAILIA, Egypt (Reuters) – Egyptâ€™s military killed 35 Islamist militants in North Sinai on Thursday, security sources said, a day after the deadliest clashes in the region in years.
The sources said those killed had taken part in Wednesday's fighting in which the army said 100 militants & 17 soldiers were killed. The sources said Thursday's casualties included militant field commanders.
Sinai-based insurgents, affiliates of Islamic State, have stepped up attacks on soldiers & police since then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in 2013 exactly two years ago after mass protests against his rule.
Sisi, now Egypt's elected president, says the pro-Islamic State group Sinai Province, & other militant factions, pose an existential threat to Egypt, other Arab states & the West.
The militants' assault, a significant increase in violence in the peninsula between Israel, the Gaza Strip & the Suez Canal, was the second major attack in Egypt this week. On Monday, a car bomb killed the prosecutor-general in Cairo, the highest-profile official to die since the insurgency began.
Army forces, backed by aerial support, stormed militant bases south of the North Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid, the security sources said, & were able to destroy vehicles & weapon storage facilities.
The army moreover defused 15 bombs planted by the militants as booby traps on the roads & cleared the perimeter of Sheikh Zuweid police station which the militants surrounded by explosives on Wednesday.
This week has been especially troubling for Egypt, a strategic U.S. ally which has a peace treaty with Israel & controls the Suez Canal, a vital global shipping lane.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his condolences to the Egyptian people & government in remarks he made at an Israeli cyber security centre.
"Our hearts are with the Egyptian people," Netanyahu said. "We convey our condolences to the Egyptian government & family members of who lost those dear to them in the struggle against terrorist cruelty."
The Arab League condemned the attack after its meeting on Thursday, calling it â€œdespicable,â€ state news agency MENA reported.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Mohamed Hassan, Ahmed Tolba & Ali Abdelaty in Cairo, Allyn Fisher in Jerusalem; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Grant McCool)