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State-allied tribal groups lead renewed fighting against militants in eastern North Sinai

Four fighters from tribes in North Sinai that are allied with the government were killed in the Thursday afternoon explosion of an improvised explosive device, according to statements from tribal groups.

Thursday’s were the latest casualties in operations that the Union of Sinai Tribes and other armed tribal groups have led in March against the Islamic State affiliate in the eastern areas of the governorate.

As of Thursday, the clashes have led to the deaths of at least six members of the tribal union and at least six Province of Sinai militants, according to statements by the union.

Four members of Egypt’s security forces were reported in the domestic press to have been killed over the same period.

Eastern North Sinai was once the center of conflict between Egypt’s Armed Forces and its allies and the Province of Sinai. An Armed Forces’ campaign against militants in the peninsula began in 2019 and pushed the militant group westward, leading the group to refocus its operations to the city of Bir al-Abd and surrounding areas.

Displaced inhabitants of eastern North Sinai had begun to gradually return to their homes in the environs of the eastern cities of Rafah and Sheikh Zuwayed in late 2021, with the permission of the Armed Forces and the police. But recent months have seen an uptick in militant activity in the easterly areas again, alongside the Province of Sinai’s pledging allegiance to the new leader.

Since early March, when the militant group pledged allegiance to the new Islamic State leader and redoubled its attacks against both the Armed Forces and the tribal union around Sheikh Zuwayed and Rafah, the Union of Sinai Tribes and a newly formed tribal group also aligned with the Egyptian government and called the Union of Sinai Mujahideen have intensified security operations against the Province of Sinai.

The militant organization claimed in the first two weeks of March that its attacks had resulted in the deaths and injuries of tribal fighters, which the Union of Sinai Tribes denied in a statement, saying that the Province of Sinai was falsifying announcements to raise morale.

The Union of Sinai Tribes also announced that it had killed one of the militants but did not provide further details. A source close to the union told Mada Masr that the militant was killed during a reconnaissance operation near the village of Joura, to the south of Sheikh Zuwayed.

On March 19, a local source with ties to the Egyptian Armed Forces told Mada Masr on condition of anonymity that two Province of Sinai militants were killed to the south of Sheikh Zuwayed, in an incident that took place as the Union of Sinai Mujahideen carried out a reconnaissance mission.

In the same area on March 20, one fighter from the Union of Sinai Mujahideen was killed and another injured during clashes with the Province of Sinai, said the same source.

And on March 21, two fighters from the Union of Sinai Tribes and three Province of Sinai militants were killed in clashes that took place in Shaybana village, south of Rafah in the east of North Sinai, the union announced in a statement.

While the Armed Forces has not publicly announced its involvement in any operations in North Sinai since last August, four security personnel were reported to be killed this month by the domestic press, three of them members of the Armed Forces and one from the police.

The uptick in clashes comes even as civilian residents of the same northeastern areas — Sheikh Zuwayed, Rafah and their surroundings — began to return to the areas for the first time in seven years since the sites were rendered unlivable by years of combat between militants and the state.

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