Egypt replaces tanks with armored vehicles in Sinai

Egypt's military is deploying light armored vehicles in Sinai to replace some heavy tanks whose presence at the border area had raised concerns in Israel, security sources said on Tuesday.A source said last week the army had begun withdrawing some of the tanks, after they had been deployed as part of an operation against militants who attacked and killed 16 border guards on August 5.

Disorder has spread in Sinai since former President Hosni Mubarak's overthrow last year. Analysts say Islamists with possible links to al Qaeda have gained a foothold, which has alarmed Israel.

The unrest has occurred mainly in North Sinai, where many people have guns and where Bedouin tribes have long complained of neglect by central government. They say they have seen no benefits from the expanding Sinai tourist resorts.

Hundreds of troops, along with tanks, armored vehicles and helicopters were sent to the area in a joint operation with police to raid militant hideouts, arrest suspects and seize weapons, including rockets and other arms, rife in the area.

But Israeli officials have privately voiced concerns about heavy equipment being sent to areas where there have been restrictions on weapon deployments under a 1979 peace treaty, the first such treaty reached between Israel and an Arab state.

“Twenty tanks have been withdrawn from the central sector of Sinai toward Suez,” a security source said, adding that about 20 armored vehicles have reached Al-Arish city, the administrative centre of North Sinai.

The sources did not give a clear answer to whether the withdrawal of tanks was taken in response to Israel's concerns or say how many tanks were still in Sinai.

The army said last week it would broaden its campaign in Sinai, involving a redeployment of forces but did not specify which areas they would redeploy to.

“The operation is entering a new phase that requires different equipment capable of facing and handling the situation in Sinai,” military official told Reuters on Tuesday.

Another security source said the tanks were removed to be replaced with more “useful equipment”.

Analysts said there was no doubt that the tanks were taken out to assuage Israeli concerns. “Egypt's decision to remove tanks was taken to calm Israel after it voiced concerns about the presence of tanks near its borders,” Safwat al Zayaat, a retired army general and military expert said.

“As if the tanks were, as Egypt is saying now, not useful then why did it send them there in the first place?” he said.

A security source said security forces defused a land mine and a bomb on Tuesday planted by militants east of Al-Arish. It was the fourth such incident since last week.

No one had yet claimed responsibility for the killing of the border guards on August 5. But a Sinai-based Islamist militant organization, the Salafi Jihadi Group – which denies any involvement in the border attack – warned the Egyptian army that the crackdown would force it to fight back.

Reporting by Yusri Mohamed in Ismailia, Yasmine Saleh and Marwa Awad; Writing by Tamim Elyan; Editing by Alison Williams

Egypt withdraws tanks from Sinai

Egypt has withdrawn some 20 tanks from Sinai in response to Israel's security concerns, according to an unnamed Egyptian official.

The official spoke Monday to The Associated Press about the withdrawal, which comes a month after Egyptian troops, including tanks and other hardware, entered the Sinai in order to combat terrorism emanating from the peninsula and directed at both Egypt and Israel.

The 1979 Camp David peace accords stipulate that Sinai is to remain demilitarized, although in recent years Israel has agreed to exceptions in an effort to prevent terrorist attacks and stop cross-border infiltrations.

Meanwhile, it was reported Sunday in the Egyptian and Israeli media that a new Egyptian ambassador to Israel was deployed to Jerusalem and that his appointment will be confirmed this week.

Atef Salem, who previously served as Egypt's consul general in Eilat, is scheduled to present his credentials to Israeli President Shimon Peres next month.

The previous ambassador was recalled in August 2011 after three Egyptian security officers were killed by Israeli troops as they pursued terrorists in the Sinai.

Clinton urges Egypt, Israel to talk about Sinai

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Egypt’s foreign minister to keep lines of communication open with Israel amid tensions over an Egyptian push against militants in the neighboring Sinai desert, the State Department said on Thursday.

Clinton spoke with Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr on Wednesday and stressed the importance of acting transparently as Cairo deploys aircraft and tanks in Sinai, for the first time since a 1973 war with Israel, to pursue Islamist militants blamed for killing 16 border guards in an August 5 attack.

“This call was in keeping with a series of contacts we’ve had in recent days with both Egyptians and Israelis encouraging both sides to keep the lines of communication open,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Israeli officials have expressed concern over the Egyptian deployment, saying the vehicles’ entry into the Sinai was not coordinated and was in violation of a 1979 peace treaty.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has not lodged a formal protest, preferring to try and resolve the issue in quiet contacts including U.S. mediation to avoid worsening ties with Cairo, already strained since Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular revolt last year.

Nuland said the Sinai security situation should be addressed “in a way that first and foremost strengthens Egypt’s security but also has a positive impact on the security of neighbors and the region as a whole.”

Nuland declined to say whether the United States believed Egypt had been insufficiently transparent or failed to keep Israel informed.

“Our view is that effective mechanisms do exist and that they just need to continue to be used,” she said.

The U.S.-brokered 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel sets strict limits on military deployment in the Sinai, which is designated as a demilitarized buffer zone.

But Israeli media have speculated that coordination with Egypt may suffer after a shakeup this month of Egypt’s military, including Islamist President Mohammed Mursi’s dismissals of officials Israel had long been in contact with.

Reporting By Andrew Quinn; Editing by Vicki Allen

Egypt to move tanks into Sinai for first time since 1973

Egypt reportedly is planning to introduce tanks in the Sinai for the first time since the 1973 war with Israel.

The plans, part of the country’s attempts to shut down terrorists in the area, are being finalized by Egypt’s newly appointed defense minister, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Reuters reported.

The movement of military hardware into the Sinai comes after a deadly attack earlier this month on Egyptian border guards that left 16 dead. Part of the assault included an attempt to breach the border with Israel. Israel reportedly had warned Egypt about the attack before it happened.

Following the attack, Israel agreed to the movement of additional Egyptian troops into the region to control the terrorists.

Under the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, Israel agreed to withdraw its troops and citizens from the Sinai and return it to Egypt in return for normalized relations and a restriction on the number of Egyptian troops allowed to enter the Sinai, particularly near the border with Israel.

Israel has called on Egypt to control the terrorists in the Sinai.

Israeli officials have not commented to local media on the reported plans, but have said that Israeli and Egyptian security officials are in contact with each other.

Defense system protects Israeli tanks

An armor defense system for Israeli tanks successfully thwarted a missile attack on Israel’s border with Gaza, Israel’s military said.

The Windbreaker system on Tuesday identified, alerted and intercepted an anti-tank missile fired from southern Gaza on an Israeli army patrol in the western Negev near the Gaza border, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The soldiers returned fire shortly after the attack, according to the IDF.

The system, placed in tanks on the Gaza border two months ago, uses sensors and radar to identify incoming missiles, and fires its own missiles to intercept and neutralize the attacking missile.

Several terrorist groups in Gaza reportedly possess anti-tank missiles.


Three Men Arranged for Murder of Israelis

Three men facing possible death sentences for the murder of two Israelis were arraigned in L.A. County Superior Court on Nov. 10.

During a brief court appearance, the men, handcuffed and wearing blue prison jumpsuits, pleaded not guilty to the killing of Benjamin Wertzberger and Adar Neeman, two longtime friends from Rishon L’Zion.

The two Israelis were last seen alive on Dec. 2, 2002, as they planned to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Their bodies were not discovered until September of last year in a shallow grave in the Mojave Desert near Barstow.

The suspects, Shane Huang, Benjamin Frandsen and Nicholas Turner, have each been charged with two counts of murder under special circumstances of multiple murder.

Deputy District Attorney Karla Karlin, the prosecutor, said that the special circumstances “make them eligible for the death penalty, although my office has not yet decided whether to seek capital punishment.”

Wertzberger, 24, also known as Ben Berger, came to Los Angeles four years ago hoping for a career as a disc jockey. According to court records, he became involved with drug dealers shortly after his arrival.

Neeman, 25, traveled to Los Angeles, at Wertzberger’s invitation, one month before the planned trip to Las Vegas.

Superior Court Judge Michael Hoff set the trial date for Jan. 6 at the Van Nuys Courthouse. Karlin estimated that the trial will last about one month. – Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Marines’ Westwood ‘Invasion’ a Mistake

Two U.S. Marine light armored vehicles (LAVs) appeared at an anti-war demonstration in front of Westwood’s Federal Building on Tuesday night.

Act Now to Stop War & End Racism (ANSWER), a group that opposes the war in Iraq and supports Palestinian rights, reportedly organized the protest at the corner of Veteran and Wilshire boulevards. The Marine vehicles, which are essentially light tanks with tires instead of treads, had their cannons uncovered and were manned by soldiers in battle gear.

Surprised protesters, many with signs decrying the invasion of Fallujah in Iraq, blocked the LAVs with their bodies and exchanged words with the soldiers before the LAPD cleared the path.

“It’s a whole lot of nothing,” officer Kathy Simpson, a Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman, told the L.A. Times. “The tanks were there for Veterans Day. They ride in the parade and wave.”

Authorities said the soldiers apparently lost their way and were driving around the Federal Building trying to find the correct address.

The protesters’ pictures and videos of the encounter soon circulated on the Internet, sparking a brief uproar over the needless display of force at a rally. The Marine base at Camp Pendleton denied that was their intention. – Idan Ivri, Contributing Writer

ADL Briefs Law Enforcement on Hate Crimes

The Anti-Defamation League hosted about 100 police and other law enforcement officials for a Nov. 4 briefing on domestic terrorism.

Mark Pitcavage, an Ohio-based hate crimes expert and director of the ADL’s fact-finding department, was the main speaker at the daylong police briefing, which brought officers from Glendale, San Bernardino, the Los Angeles Unified School District, California Highway Patrol and the Los Angeles Police Department’s major crimes division to the Santa Monica Boulevard offices of ADL.

“Extreme ideologies create extreme actions,” Pitcavage said.

Police also learned that unlike typical criminals, whose crimes often are narrowly focused, extremists commit a wide variety of crimes to finance their revolutionary visions.

And while foreign terrorists plot against the United States, homegrown extremists are being welcomed in the Middle East. Pitcavage said that since Sept. 11, racist essays written by Louisiana neo-Nazi David Duke have been widely reprinted in the Arab media. – David Finnigan, Contributing Writer