Egypt said its security forces have eliminated 126 militants in recent army operations in the northeastern Sinai Peninsula, with 18  killed on Saturday, two days after an attack claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group killed eight soldiers.

“The national security department received information about a group of terrorists who had taken refuge in a house in Bir al-Abd,” a city in the restive North Sinai province, the ministry said in a statement early on Sunday. 

Security forces, according to the ministry, killed 18 militants in the house after an exchange of fire, and seized weapons and explosives allegedly found in their possession. 

Later on Sunday, Egypt’s army spokesman said that a total of 126 militants have been killed in recent army operations in Sinai, while eight soldiers and seven senior officers were “martyred”. 

The announcement came two days after IS claimed responsibility for an explosion of an Egyptian army vehicle in Bir al-Abd, in which 10 soldiers were “killed or injured,” according to the Egyptian army spokesperson.

A day after the attack, the army had already announced that it had killed two militants perceived to be “very dangerous” in Sinai.

For years now, Egypt has been battling Sinai-based militants waging attacks against civilian and military targets and killing hundreds of people across the region, but has so far been unsuccessful in rooting them out. 

Since a coup led by general-turned-president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2013, militants have ratcheted up attacks in Sinai, with nearly weekly incidents as they accuse the army of displacing locals and launching air strikes on civilian homes.

In 2014, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, an established militant group in Sinai, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and changed its name to Sinai Province, claiming to be an IS branch. 

As the Egyptian military has struggled to defeat the group, which has launched attacks on tourists, security forces and houses of worship, it has also been accused of committing war crimes against civilians in the area.

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