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Egypt's security forces kill 15 suspected militants in a Sinai shootout

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian security forces have killed 15 suspected militants in a shootout during a raid on their hideout near al-Arish, the capital of North Sinai province, state news agency MENA and security sources said on Wednesday.

The men were suspected of planning attacks on security checkpoints ahead of the 45th anniversary of Egypt's October 6 1973 war with Israel, the sources and MENA said, quoting an interior ministry statement.

The news agency did not identify the suspects nor say whether there had been any casualties or injuries among the security forces.

Police seized a number of automatic weapons in the raid on a farm West of al-Arish where the suspected militants were hiding, MENA said.

The raid comes as the Egyptian army, backed by police, push ahead with a military operation to crush Islamist militants behind a wave of attacks on civilians and military personnel in Sinai.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered the armed forces last November to defeat Islamist militants within three months after an attack on a mosque in Sinai killed more than 300 people.

Defeating the militants and restoring security after years of unrest has been a key promise of Sisi, who was re-elected in March in a landslide victory against no real opposition.

Sisi's critics accuse him of cracking down on all dissent, but supporters say tough measures are needed to stabilise Egypt, which was rocked by years of unrest after protests toppled veteran leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The media is not given direct access to cover high-security operations in Sinai.

(Reporting by Ahmed Mohamed Hassan and Ali Abdelaty, Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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