Police arrested 300 people as security forces deployed 2,100 men backed by armoured vehicles in the Sinai Peninsula for a massive sweep through the rugged desert region in search of terrorists involved in a series of recent bombings, security officials said.
Most of the arrests took place on Sunday in el-Arish, a north Sinai town close to the border with Gaza and Israel, a security official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to issue public statements.
Earlier, another security official said special troops were preparing for a search for suspects in the region. "The forces will start combing the area from Monday morning."
The open-ended manhunt is not connected with the deployment of 750 other Egyptian security forces taking up positions along the Gaza-Egypt border in agreement with Israel as it abandons settlements in the Palestinian enclave.
Israeli forces have clashed often there with Palestinian arms smugglers and have destroyed dozens of smuggler tunnels.
Until 2004, the Red Sea area, including Egypt's Sinai, had been free of militant-inspired violence. Beginning last October, however, the area has seen a string of deadly attacks that began at hotels in the Egyptian resort of Taba.
In July, dozens were killed in three blasts that targetted Sharm el-Sheik, the highly popular resort at the southern tip of the Sinai.
Last week a bomb in northern Sinai hit a vehicle carrying peacekeepers of the Multinational Force and Observers, which is helping monitor the 1979 Egypt-Israeli peace agreement. Two Canadians suffered minor injuries.