Cairo (AFP) - Four children were killed on Saturday in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula when a mortar round hit their home, in an apparent attack by militants targeting soldiers, security officials said.
The attack took place in the northern Sinai town of El-Joura, believed to be a bastion of Islamist militants who have killed scores of police and soldiers over the past year.
Four people were wounded in the blast, the officials said, adding that the children were all under 15 years old.
Soldiers and police had been combing the area a day after militants shot dead two senior army and police officers as they were driving home.
The military said on Saturday its forces had killed 12 militants the day before in several operations.
Militant attacks have surged since the military overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and cracked down on his supporters from July 2013.
At least 1,400 people have been killed in the crackdown, mostly Islamist protesters.
The militant attacks usually target security personnel, but they have also led to civilian casualties.
At least seven civilians and a soldier were killed in a rocket attack earlier this month in the north Sinai capital El-Arish, when one rocket misfired and hit a crowded market place.
Separately, a soldier was wounded by gunfire on Saturday near the town of Rafah, which straddles Egypt's border with the Palestinian Gaza Strip.
The military has poured armour and soldiers into the desert region to quell the militants, who have also struck the capital and other mainland cities using car bombs.
The attacks have decreased over the past few months after several militant leaders were killed or captured.
But restoring complete security to Sinai, which also borders Israel, has so far eluded the military.
The main militant group, the Islamist Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, recently posted pictures on social media of its gunmen openly passing out leaflets to Sinai residents.
The group says it wants to establish Islamic law and avenge those killed in the government's post-Morsi crackdown.
The group also claims to have fired several rockets at Israel over the past month in support of Hamas battling Israel in Gaza, where the death toll topped 1,000 Palestinians on Saturday after almost three weeks of fighting.
Egyptian security officials have not confirmed that rockets have been fired recently from Sinai into Israel.
But the military said earlier this week it had killed three militants who were carrying rockets in a car and headed for the border with Israel.