CAIRO - Islamic militants attacked a police checkpoint outside Egypt's northern Sinai port city of el-Arish just minutes before traditional prayers marking the beginning of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, following the month of Ramadan.
In a statement, Egypt's interior ministry said that eight policemen were killed, along with five militants.
Egyptian TV reported the attack on the police checkpoint outside the northern Sinai town of el-Arish without elaborating on details, ostensibly to avoid upsetting public opinion on an important religious holiday.
It was not the first time militants struck on religious occasions, and Arab analysts pointed out the militants singled out the young police recruits as they were preparing for morning prayers marking the end of Ramadan.
Attempts to demoralize public
Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, tells VOA that terrorists in Egypt have a history of attacking during religious holidays to try to demoralize the public.
He said there have been many other terrorist operations in Egypt on religious holidays, including Christmas, Easter and Eid al-Fitr or Eid al-Adha, so attacking on a holiday is a favorite tactic of terrorists, underlining the fact that this sort of chronic terrorism is difficult to eliminate and is often aimed at the country's security forces.
Abou Diab points out that the Wednesday attack comes just days after Libya handed over Egypt's top terrorist, Hisham al-Ashmawi, who was captured by eastern Libyan military forces in the port city of Darna, last October. Ashmawi is a former Egyptian special forces commander who has fought with Islamic militants in both the Sinai and eastern Libya.
President addresses terrorism
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi blasted countries and groups that support acts of terrorism in the Arab world, during last week's Arab summit in Mecca.
He said the various forms of terrorism — including its religious component and its language of hatred and discrimination — is at the top of the list of threats facing Arab and Islamic countries, and needs to be addressed by the entire world.
Opponents of the Egyptian government claimed to show pictures of the attack site on social media, including a building that was hit by ammunition and mortar rounds, and an armored personnel carrier that was partially burned. It was not possible to independently verify the information.
Qatar's al-Jazeera TV, which Egypt often accuses of broadcasting misinformation, reported there were five attacks Wednesday in the Sinai aimed at the country's security forces.