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Militant Attack Kills 12 Egyptian Soldiers in Sinai

FILE - An Egyptian army soldier looks on from his postion at a checkpoint in el-Arish city, the troubled northern part of the Sinai peninsula, July 8, 2015.

Suspected Islamic militants attacked an army checkpoint in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Friday, killing 12 soldiers and wounding another eight, according to security and medical officials.

They said the attack took place about 80 kilometers (50 miles) east of the Suez Canal near the town of Bir el-Abd, where the wounded were taken for treatment before they were ferried to the city of el-Arish to the east.

The officials said a gun battle erupted after the militants opened fire on the checkpoint with light arms and heavy machine guns. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, had no word on casualties among the militants.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which bore the hallmarks of the local affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group. Called the “Emirate of Sinai,” the group is leading the insurgency in the strategic region bordering Israel and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Friday's attack is the latest in what appears to be a surge in the number of operations launched by the militants as well as a wave of kidnappings and subsequent killings of residents suspected of collaborating with security forces battling the militants.

However, there has been a dramatic fall in recent months in the number of attacks on mainland Egypt claimed by the IS. A previously unheard of group, “Hasm,” or “Decisiveness,” has claimed responsibility for the attempted assassination in recent weeks in Cairo of a top prosecutor and a former mufti, or chief theologian.

Egypt has battled militants in Sinai for years, but the insurgency has grown deadlier since the 2013 ouster by the military of an elected Islamist president.

Authorities have placed tight restrictions on travel to Sinai, denying access by independent and foreign media to the vast and arid region.