Morsi faced his first Sinai challenge in August last year, just over a month after taking office, when militants carried out the most brazen attack ever on military troops, killing 16 Egyptian soldiers along the border with Gaza and Israel. Morsi at the time vowed to restore stability, launching a brief military operation that resulted in the closures of some smuggling tunnels between Sinai and Gaza and the arrest of the man believed to be at the heart of the current kidnapping, Ahmed Abu Shita.
Abu Shita was convicted to death in September for involvement in a major attack on a northern Sinai police station in 2011 that left three policemen dead. Thirteen others, including eight in absentia, were also given death sentences in the case.
Those behind the current kidnapping are demanding the release of Abu Shita, along with other Sinai prisoners.
Such strong security buildup is uncommon in Sinai. The 1979 peace deal between Egypt and Israel restored Sinai to Egypt after it was captured by Israel in the 1967 war. But it restricted numbers of troops and types of weapons Egypt could station there. Nothing more than a light weapon was allowed in most of the peninsula, and only police — not soldiers — were allowed in the zone directly on the border.
But for the past years, with rising lawlessness in Sinai and increased smuggling activities with Gaza, Israel bent some of the rules.
Major Egyptian military operations there would require Israeli consent under the terms of the peace agreement. Israeli officials declined to comment Tuesday, but in the past have said that security cooperation has remained strong since the new Islamist government took office. The official silence could be a signal of Israeli consent.
Associated Press Writers Ashraf Sweilam in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt and Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
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