Soldiers in military vehicles proceed towards al-Jura district in El-Arish city from Sheikh Zuwaid, around 350 km (217 miles) northeast of Cairo May 21, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
A military operation to free seven Egyptian security officers kidnapped last week in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula will be launched "any minute," Egyptian Interior Ministry spokesman Hani Abdul-Latif said at a Tuesday press conference, stressing that the abductees would not be harmed.
The seven security personnel – including a member of the armed forces, four port security officers and two state security officers – have been held by unidentified kidnappers in Sinai since their abduction last Thursday.
The kidnappings represent the first time for Egyptian security personnel to be abducted by Sinai-based militants, although kidnappings – usually of foreign tourists – have become rife in the restive border region.
According to Al-Ahram's Arabic-language news website, Abdul-Latif said the authorities knew the kidnappers by name.
"All but the final stage of the operation has been undertaken," Abdul-Latif was quoted as saying. "All that is left is the final confrontation, which will involve very delicate calculations."
Al-Ahram had earlier quoted a military source as saying that elements of Egypt's second and third armies – regional divisions of the Egyptian Armed Forces responsible for the Sinai Peninsula and Suez Canal – would take part in the imminent operation.
The same source went on to dismiss recent reports that the operation was already underway, while declining to reveal exactly when it would begin.
"Military operations cannot be conducted hastily or impulsively," the source was quoted as saying. "They are only carried out following close coordination between military and political leaders, after all peaceful channels – including negotiations – have been exhausted."
The source added: "The fact that troops are currently on the move doesn't mean the operation is already underway."
The same unnamed source went on to say that Egyptian police had also sent forces to Sinai specialised in hostage recovery to support military forces.
On Sunday, President Mohamed Morsi declared that "all options" remained open to the government to secure the release of the kidnapped soldiers, stressing that Egypt would "not be blackmailed" by the kidnappers.
In the two years since Egypt's January 2011 uprising, Egyptian police have been the target of several violent attacks by Sinai residents.
Sinai locals often complain of neglect and marginalisation by the central government in Cairo, especially following the revolution. Some have sought revenge against police deployed in the region following years of heavy-handed security policies under the ousted Mubarak regime.