CAIRO — Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi welcomed seven young soldiers and policemen at a military airport in Cairo after militants in the Sinai released them early Wednesday. The men were seized while traveling in northern Sinai on May 16.
The release around dawn Wednesday came after hours of intense negotiations between Egyptian intelligence officials and tribal leaders in the Sinai.
Morsi called on the people of Sinai to "give up their arms" and hand over their weapons and pursue their grievances at the negotiating table:
He called on armed parties in the Sinai to turn over their arms because he said no one should possess weapons other than the police or the army. He said the government is responsible for everyone's security and that those with grievances should present them at the negotiating table.
Morsi also vowed to improve economic conditions in the Sinai, a long-standing grievance of local Bedouin tribes. He promised better health care and education facilities.
The peninsula has become increasingly lawless since former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011.
In the streets of Cairo, word of the release spread quickly. The killings of 16 Egyptian soldiers last summer spawned a sense of national outrage that has yet to die down.
Public anger over insecurity in the Sinai, as well as in other parts of the country, has many commentators in the Egyptian press urging strong action.
On Monday, Morsi ruled out negotiating with the captors, saying there was "no room for dialogue with the criminals."
Egyptian troops launched a sweep of north Sinai on Tuesday.
Islamist militants in northern Sinai have used the lack of central authority to carry out attacks across the border into Israel. And there have been several incidents in which Western tourists and other foreigners have been kidnapped in the peninsula.