Cairo: Egypt`s military on Wednesday declared "complete" victory over Islamist militants after its helicopter gunships crossed into the Sinai for the first time since the Yom Kippur war of 1973, firing missiles to kill 20 terrorists.
"Elements from the armed forces and interior ministry supported by the air force began a plan to restore security by pursuing and targeting armed terrorist elements in Sinai, and it has accomplished this task with complete success," the military said in a statement.
It would "continue implementing this plan," the statement added.
The military said it deployed Apache helicopter gunships in the strikes termed as operation "Eagle" that killed 20 terrorists in the Sinai village of Tumah near the town of Sheikh Zouaid, the state-run MENA news agency reported.
"Terrorist elements fired rockets and shells and heavy machine guns... At the aircraft combing the area, but did not hit the aircraft, and ground forces then dealt with them and killed a number of them," it reported.
The pre-dawn raids were apparently in response to deadly attacks on Sunday by militants on a border checkpost, killing 16 soldiers.
The air raids marked for the first time in decades that Egyptian military crossed into Sinai, which was declared a de-militarised zone after the last Arab-Israel war.
The Yom Kippur war of 1973 was fought from October 6 to 25, 1973, between Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria.
Gunships went into action, after army had massed heavy forces close to the Sinai peninsula in anticipation of a major crackdown on the militants.
"Our forces have entered the village of al-Toumah killing 20 terrorists and have destroyed three armoured cars belonging to the terrorists," an army spokesman said earlier, confirming the raid.
The military action followed fresh clashes between armed men and security forces at several security check points overnight in the Sinai region.
The official said armed men believed to be jihadists fired
on checkpoints in al-Arish and in the nearby town of Rafah on the border with Gaza, injuring seven people, including two police officers.
Heavy exchange of fire continued late into the night, state-run MENA said. The army closed the roads leading to areas where firing was going on.
Lawlessness in the rugged desert region bordering Israel has spread since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in an uprising 18 months ago and the political instability that followed.
Egypt and Israel say both Islamist fighters from the Sinai and Palestinian allies in the Hamas dominated Gaza Strip are active in Northern Sinai, attacking both Egyptian security forces and staging raids across the border into Israel.
The confrontation between army and the militants poses a major challenge to the new Islamist President Mohammad Mursi, whose Muslim Brotherhood party has good relations with the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip.
The Egyptian military strikes came a day after the military held a funeral for the 16 soldiers killed in Sunday`s attack.
Mursi did not attend the funeral, where some protesters chanted slogans against the Brotherhood and even heckled Prime Minister Hisham Qandil.