Egyptian forces Wednesday launched a massive ground and air campaign against strongholds of suspected militants in the Sinai Peninsula, according to state media.

At least 20 gunmen were killed in strikes against militants’ hotbeds in the village of Touma in Sinai, Egyptian state television reported.

Three armoured vehicles belonging to the militants were destroyed by the hits.

An unspecified number of suspected insurgents were also injured in the raids, the state-run newspaper Al Ahram reported, citing witnesses.

The raids followed multiple attacks early Wednesday by masked gunmen on security checkpoints in the Sinai town of Al Arish, where three security personnel were injured.

Men in four-wheel drive vehicles without licence plates opened fire with automatic weapons shortly before midnight on the joint army-police checkpoints on the outskirts of Al Arish, the capital of North Sinai province, witnesses and security sources said.

It is the first time that Egypt has used warplanes against suspected militants since 1973 when it launched a surprise attack against Israel to recapture Sinai, which Israel had seized six years earlier. The two countries signed a peace treaty in 1979.

The Egyptian Interior Ministry said in a statement that the locations of the suspected insurgents were identified with the help of local residents.

“Security armoured forces were deployed in the surrounding areas (in North Sinai) to carry out a combing operation,” added the ministry.

Army and police forces were also reported to be entering mountainous areas south of al—Arish to hunt down militants.

There were no reports on whether any suspected militants had been arrested.

The latest violence comes three days after unknown gunmen killed 16 Egyptian soldiers in an attack in the border Rafah town, near the Gaza Strip. The assailants then took two armoured vehicles, which they used to try to break into Israeli territory.

Security officials said Rafah and the nearby town of Sheikh Zuwaid had been surrounded by security forces.

Meanwhile, Egyptian forensic authorities were expected to start examining the remains of Sunday’s attackers, which Israel handed over after its armed forces foiled their infiltration attempt.

A forensic official told Al—Ahram that five bags containing body parts were received and forensic experts would seek to retrieve DNA and identify the bodies.

According to an Israeli army spokeswoman, most of the attackers had been wearing explosive belts.

The attackers are believed to be Egyptian and Palestinian Jihadist radicals holing themselves in a mountainous area in Sinai, reported Al Akhbar, another state-run newspaper.

President Mohammed Morsi had vowed a harsh response to the Sunday attack on the soldiers.

His political grouping, the Muslim Brotherhood, has blamed the incident on Israel’s intelligence service Mossad. Israel has vehemently denied the claim.

The latest attacks underline the security challenges facing Egyptian authorities in Sinai, where militant Islamist groups are thought to have a significant presence.

Over the past year, they are believed to have been responsible for several attacks on a pipeline that exports gas to Israel, as well as raids on police stations.

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