JERUSALEM – An Israeli drone strike in the Sinai Peninsula -- carried out in coordination with Egypt’s military -- killed five suspected Islamic militants and destroyed their rocket launcher, Egyptian security officials told Palestinian media Friday.
Israeli officials declined to comment on the report.
Egypt's military said it was investigating the incident after residents near the Egypt-Israel border reported hearing a large explosion Friday, according to Ahram Online, an Egyptian news site. Two unidentified Egyptian security officials told the Associated Press that Israeli drones were behind the strike.
The attack comes as Egypt’s military is launching another major crackdown in the Sinai, where militants – some angry over the ousting of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi – have been accused of attacking government facilities and killing Egyptian police officers.
On Thursday night, Israel briefly shut down its southern airport in the resort town of Eilat due to an unspecified security threat. Eilat has been repeatedly targeted with rocket attacks from militants in the Sinai.
Egyptian security officials told the Palestinian Maan News Agency Friday that they had warned Israel about an impending rocket attack against its aircraft, prompting the closure.
Israeli airstrikes in the Sinai are believed to be uncommon, largely due to political sensitivities and fears about endangering the 1979 peace accord with Egypt.
In 2011, Israel was forced to apologize after mistakenly killing five Egyptian soldiers in a cross-border strike. Israeli forces were pursuing militants who had just entered Israel, killed eight people and then retreated back over the border to try to escape. The Egyptian soldiers were killed in the confusion.
The two countries’ militaries have been working more closely in recent weeks in an attempt to bring the restive peninsula under control. Last month, Israel agreed to allow two Egyptian battalions into the region, which is partly demilitarized under the 1979 accord.
Though Israel has never confirmed using drones to attack militants in the Sinai, witnesses and jihadi Internet sites claim Israeli drones have been seen flying over the region in recent months and were responsible for a deadly attack last year.
In 2012, Ibrahim Owida Nasser Madan, a Bedouin militant who was suspected of having helped carry out the deadly 2011 raid into Israel, was killed by an explosion while riding a motorcycle in the northern Sinai.
Militant groups said he was struck by an Israeli drone, but Egyptian and Israeli officials denied the claim.