Egypt Sinai peacekeepers deny they came under fire

AL-ARISH, Egypt Sun Aug 12, 2012 6:28am EDT

An Egyptian army truck carries tanks and vehicles to Rafah city, some 350 km (217 miles) northeast of Cairo, August 10, 2012 . REUTER/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

An Egyptian army truck carries tanks and vehicles to Rafah city, some 350 km (217 miles) northeast of Cairo, August 10, 2012 . REUTER/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

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AL-ARISH, Egypt (Reuters) - Unidentified gunmen shot at an Egyptian security checkpoint in the Sinai region, scene of an army offensive against Islamist militants, early on Sunday, Egyptian and international officials said.

But an official for the Sinai international peacekeeping force, which helps maintain the peace accord between Israel and Egypt, denied that its own troops had come under fire.

An Egyptian official had said gunmen opened fire on the peacekeeping troops in the Um Shyhan area of central Sinai, without causing any injuries, after shooting at a police checkpoint and clashing with Egyptian security forces.

"We were not fired upon," said Kathleen Riley, Cairo representative of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) which has monitored movements of troops and military equipment along Egypt's border with Israel since their 1979 peace treaty.

"There was some firing on an Egyptian army checkpoint or police checkpoint not too far away. We were able to hear the shots but we had absolutely no attacks upon our staff."

The incident follows the start of an Egyptian operation targeting Islamist militants in Sinai suspected of killing 16 border guards a week ago.

The government in Cairo has sent armored vehicles and hundreds of troops in the biggest build-up in the treaty's demilitarized zone since Egypt's 1973 war with Israel.

Israel has called upon Egypt to crack down on growing lawlessness in the Sinai, which has become a hideout for jihadi groups opposed to Israel.

Israeli officials say they approve of the Egyptian military operation and the peacekeepers say they are continuing their work in coordination with the two sides.

Armed assailants have attacked several checkpoints since last Sunday's attack on the border guards.

(Reporting by Yusri Mohamed in Al-Arish and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo; Writing by Yasmine Saleh and Tom Pfeiffer in Cairo; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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