Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi promised on Saturday to end military operations against jihadists in the Sinai Peninsula “as soon as possible”.
More than 200 jihadists and at least 33 government troops have been killed since February 9, when Egypt launched operation “Sinai 2018” against an affiliate of the Islamic State group, according to official figures.
Sisi, speaking to Sinai residents at a military event broadcast on state TV, promised to “finish the mission as soon as possible”.
He also said that a social and economic development plan for the area, launched in 2014, would be completed by 2022.
The country has been hit by significant militant attacks in recent years, especially after the army toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 following mass protests against his government.
Jihadists have killed hundreds of soldiers, policemen and civilians, mainly in the northern Sinai, but also elsewhere in Egypt.
“All Egyptians know that their Egyptian brothers in Sinai are not responsible for the evil people,” Sisi said, referring to jihadists.
“We don’t hold our people in Sinai responsible in any way” for the attacks carried out by jihadists, said Sisi, stressing that “terrorism is present in all the republic’s provinces”.
Sisi thanked “every honourable Egyptian in the Sinai… this is a trying time but if we had not taken these measures (against jihadists), we would be losing Sinai”.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Monday that the offensive has “left up to 420,000 residents in four northeastern cities in urgent need of humanitarian aid” in the northen Sinai.
The Egyptian army denounced the report, saying it was based on “undocumented and unreliable sources”.
“We are distributing food rations to people, including in areas where military operations are taking place,” army spokesman Tamer al-Rifai told AFP.