By ASHRAF SWEILAM, Associated Press
EL-ARISH, Egypt (AP) — Egypt's new defense minister pledged Monday to crack down on militants in the largely lawless Sinai Peninsula, offering to pay Bedouins to collect weapons.
Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi visited the Sinai Monday for the first time since taking office in the aftermath of a bloody raid blamed on Islamist militants. Dozens stormed an Egyptian post on the Egypt-Gaza-Israel border on Aug. 6, killing 16 Egyptian soldiers. Then the attackers stole military vehicles and crashed through a checkpoint into Israel, where Israeli forces stopped them.
According to Egypt's official news agency and a tribal leader who met with him, el-Sissi listened to complaints from the Bedouins, especially about smuggling through an elaborate tunnels network between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
Besides the offer of rewards for collecting weapons, El-Sissi told a gathering of leaders that the government has allocated 1 billion Egyptian pounds ($165 million) for Sinai development.
The tribal leader requested anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
In the wake of the Aug. 6 attack, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi retired his defense minister and army commander, a move seen as a bold stroke in the Islamist leader's power struggle with the military.
El-Sissi was appointed defense minister to replace Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who headed the military council that ran Egypt after last year's uprising toppled longtime President Hosni Mubarak.
The Sinai has been a trouble spot since the uprising because of disarray in Egypt's security forces. Egypt also blames limitations under the 1979 peace treaty with Israel over the type and number of forces in the border area.
Israel has complained about the growing strength of Islamist militants in Sinai and has quietly authorized Egypt to send several thousand soldiers in.
Since the bloody attack two weeks ago, Egypt's official media have reported that forces have attacked several militant hideouts in Sinai, and militants have hit back with attacks of their own.
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