US ready to help Egypt after “terrorist” Sinai attack

The United States on Monday condemned the killing of 16 Egyptian guards in an attack on a border post near the Israeli frontier, saying it was ready to help Egypt secure the increasingly lawless Sinai peninsula.

"We condemn in the strongest terms yesterday's deadly terrorist attack," acting deputy State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said, offering US condolences to the victims and families as well as President Mohamed Morsi.

"The security situation in the Sinai is something that we've raised with Egyptian authorities, it's something that has been a matter of ongoing concern," he told reporters.

If asked by the Egyptian authorities, "we stand ready to assist the government of Egypt as it acts on President Morsi's pledge to secure the Sinai and address the threats of violent extremism," Ventrell added.

In Sunday's attack, gunmen in Bedouin attire drove up to a border post and opened fire before crossing into the Jewish state in an armored vehicle, Egyptian officials said. Israel said five gunmen were killed on its side.

Morsi, who only took the oath of office on June 30 to become Egypt's first freely elected leader, has ordered security forces to re-take full control of the Sinai.

The 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, under which Israel withdrew from the Sinai which it had occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, set strict limits on Egyptian troop numbers in the peninsula.

But Israel has complained of growing lawlessness on its southern border since the overthrow of veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak early last year and called for action by Cairo.

The lawlessness on the Sinai was among issues raised when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Morsi in Cairo last month.

"Clearly it's an issue and something the Egyptian authorities have pledged to address," Ventrell said.

"As we move through a very significant period of transition in Egypt's history, there's been a lot of changes," he said. "In terms of Egypt consolidating itself and moving into its next chapter there's still some areas that continue to need attention and Sinai is one of those."