CAIRO — Egypt’s military destroyed three vehicles loaded with weapons, ammunition and explosives, and killed a “large number” of militants in the western desert, a military spokesman said Tuesday.

Col. Tamer el-Rifai said in a statement that those targeted are suspected of having been involved in an ambush on police nearly two weeks ago about 135 kilometers (84 miles) southwest of Cairo. The Interior Ministry said 16 police were killed in the attack.

El-Rifai said the airstrikes took place in a rugged area some 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Cairo. He said the scene was still being assessed and a casualty count was incomplete.

He posted aerial footage on his official Facebook page that showed three vehicles, allegedly belonging to the suspected militants, being targeted by airstrikes.

The state-run news agency MENA quoted an unnamed security official as saying the forces freed a police officer who had been abducted during the ambush and transferred him to a Cairo hospital.

Egypt has been battling militants in recent years in the western desert as well as the northern Sinai Peninsula, where an Islamic State affiliate has targeted security forces as well as the region’s Christian minority.

Egyptian security officials said four civilians were killed Tuesday when a mortar shell hit their tractor in el-Arish, Sinai’s largest city on the Mediterranean coast. A fifth person was wounded, according to the officials.

The officials later said the military foiled an attack on a checkpoint in the town of Sheikh Zuweid in northern Sinai, killing at least 16 suspected militants. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Egyptian officials say militants and weapons have entered the country from Libya, Egypt’s western neighbor, which has been mired in unrest since the 2011 overthrow and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

On Monday, el-Rifai said the military targeted an arms convoy crossing the border from Libya, destroying six vehicles loaded with weapons and ammunition, and killing militants.

Libyan officials said Tuesday that Egyptian airstrikes on the eastern Libyan city of Darna killed dozens of civilians, including an entire family.

Libyan lawmaker Hamad al-Bandaq said the fighter jets bombed a house in al-Fatayah district in eastern Darna late Monday, killing at least 12 people. Most of them were women and children who were paying a visit to their sick relative, he said. A second airstrike hit a shepherd and his family while they were sitting next to a fire pit on a chilly night.

The Shura Council of Darna Mujahedeen, which controls the city, accused Egypt of carrying out the “brutal airstrike.”

The Egyptian army declined to comment. Egypt’s Foreign Ministry issued a brief statement condemning the airstrike, without saying who carried it out.


Associated Press writer Ashraf Sweilam in el-Arish, Egypt, contributed to this report.

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