Mar 23, 6:22 AM EDT

Egypt says fighting in central Sinai leaves 10 soldiers dead



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CAIRO (AP) -- Islamic extremists killed 10 Egyptian soldiers in fighting in a central part of the restive Sinai Peninsula during an army raid early Thursday on a militant hideout in the area, the military said.

Egyptian army spokesman Tamer al-Rifai said troops killed 15 extremists and took seven prisoners in the raid, but that three officers and seven enlisted men were killed by roadside bombs while in pursuit of the militants.

Egypt has been battling an insurgency in northern Sinai for years, mainly by militants from an Islamic State affiliate. The army has been increasingly saying it is taking the fight deeper into the peninsula's sparsely populated desert and mountainous areas, such as Jebel Halal and near the town of Hasana, targeting insurgent weapons depots and strongholds.

Troops destroyed a large amount of explosives in the raid and seized other weapons, ammunition and equipment, including roadside bombs, computers, solar panels, documents and mobile phones, al-Rifai said.

Both the army and IS regularly claim killing opponents, but journalists are banned from the area and the claims are often impossible to verify.

Earlier this month, the Sinai-based IS branch claimed responsibility for the killing of Col. Yasser Mohammed el-Hadidi, a senior officer in the flashpoint northern peninsula town of el-Arish, with a roadside bomb, and two other officers the following day.

The group has also been behind a string of deadly slayings of Egyptian Christians in northern Sinai, which began in December and which has prompted much of the region's Christian Coptic minority to start leaving the area.

The fighting remains hundreds of kilometers (miles) away from the Red Sea tourist destinations in southern Sinai, but tourism has failed to recover due to worries over airport security after a bomb brought down a Russian airliner full of tourists in October 2015, killing all 224 people onboard.

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