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Attack on Egyptian police checkpoint leaves one officer dead

Attack on Egyptian police checkpoint leaves one officer dead
Egyptian soldiers keep watch on top of a tank on their side of the border near Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Egyptian authorities closed the Rafah crossing to Gaza following attacks in the Sinai Peninsula in the wake of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s dismissal.
(Said Khatib / AFP/Getty Images)

CAIRO -- Militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades attacked an Egyptian police checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula, killing an officer, authorities said Friday.

It was the latest in a string of deadly attacks in the lawless northern peninsula, along Egypt’s border with Israel, where militants and criminal networks have taken advantage of a security vacuum since the authoritarian Hosni Mubarak regime fell in early 2011. The attacks have escalated since the Egyptian military ousted the Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, in a coup last week.

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The assault occurred early Friday outside the town of El-Arish when militants fired a grenade at an armored vehicle at a police checkpoint, according to news agencies. In addition to the officer killed in the attack, another was critically injured, reports said.

The attacks in Sinai have targeted police and security installations as well as Christians and other suspected opponents of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood organization. Egyptian security officials blame organized Islamist militant groups for some of the worst violence, but criminal and cross-border smuggling networks also operate freely in the lightly populated Sinai.

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After Morsi was removed from power and placed under military arrest on July 3, at least nine security personnel have been shot and killed in the Sinai, according to Egyptian media reports. Suspected militants also bombed a gas pipeline to Jordan, south of El-Arish, in the first such attack in over a year.

The state MENA news agency reported Friday that three “Palestinian gunmen” were arrested for plotting attacks against government targets.

Supporters and opponents of Morsi were planning dueling demonstrations for Friday afternoon. Throngs of Morsi supporters were gathered in Nasr City in east Cairo at a sit-in demanding his reinstatement, braving intense heat and abstaining from eating and drinking during daylight hours in observance of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Muslim Brotherood leaders pledged to demonstrate peacefully while continuing to denounce security forces for their role in a clash on Monday that left more than 50 Islamist protesters and four soldiers dead.

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Morsi opponents, meanwhile, called for communal Iftar dinners -- during Ramadan, the first meal of the day, held immediately after sunset -- at Tahrir Square and outside the presidential palace.

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shashank.bengali@latimes.com


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