Two killed in Egypt's Sinai after army call for rallies

CAIRO Wed Jul 24, 2013 11:47am EDT

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Two Egyptian soldiers were killed on Wednesday in the lawless North Sinai region within hours of a call by the head of the army for rallies to back its efforts to quell violence triggered by its removal of the Islamist president.

At least five police and army positions were attacked in the region, which has seen a spike in violence since the army deposed Mohamed Mursi on July 3, security sources said.

The militants usually strike at night but the two soldiers were killed in separate, daylight attacks in the port town of El Arish.

Hours earlier, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had called for mass rallies on Friday to give him a mandate to confront three weeks of violence since he led the removal of Mursi, Egypt's first democratically elected president.

Militants in North Sinai, a lawless desert region near Egypt's border with Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, have attacked security checkpoints and other targets on an almost daily basis since July 3, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens.

Army sources estimate there are around 1,000 armed militants in Sinai, many of them nomadic Bedouin tribesmen, divided into different groups with varying ideologies or clan loyalties, and hard to track in the desert terrain.

Most are disaffected with rule from Cairo and some are explicitly working to establish Islamic law in Egypt, and likely to have been incensed by Mursi's removal. Weapons are flowing in, especially from Libya, and some groups are believed to have links with al Qaeda.

The army has from time to time hinted at a push against the militants, but is hampered by a lack of the resources or skills needed for a counter-insurgency campaign.

(Reporting by Asma Alsharif and Youssry Ahmad; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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