CAIRO: Egypt launched a major assault against militants focused on the Sinai peninsula, where the militant Islamic State (IS) group has staged deadly attacks, aiming to crush their insurgency by the end of a February deadline set by President Abdel Fattah al Sisi. The former general had ordered the military in November to defeat militants in northern Sinai within three months, after an attack on a mosque killed more than 300 people, the deadliest such incident in the Arab world’s most populous country. Residents said they saw warplanes flying above the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, which borders Sinai to the west. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, northeast of the vast desert region, said they could hear explosions coming from across the border, but there was no immediate word on any casualties. The campaign by the army, navy, air force, border patrol and police is taking place ahead of a March election in which Sisi is seeking a second term. He is widely expected to win. Operation said to be unprecedented in its scope, coordination and size In a Facebook posting on his account, Sisi wrote: “I follow with pride the heroic actions of my sons in the armed forces and police to clear Egypt’s territory of terrorist elements.” A military spokesman said the operation would cover large parts of Sinai, but also parts of the Nile delta and the Western Desert, where other militants have waged attacks, some believed to be staged out of neighbouring Libya. Security sources said on Thursday the operation, which had been in a planning phase for some time, was unprecedented in its scope, coordination and size, involving thousands of troops. “The armed forces call upon Egyptian people in all parts of the country to closely cooperate with law enforcement forces to confront terrorism, uproot it and immediately report any elements threatening the security and stability of the country,” military spokesman Colonel Tamer al Rifai said in a televised address. He said in a second statement the air force had targeted militant hideouts in north and central Sinai, while the navy tightened its maritime control to cut off supply lines.