Egypt's Interior Ministry says two army officers were killed along with five militants when Egyptian police, military and special forces clashed during a Wednesday raid on a suspected safehouse in Qalubiya province, just north of Cairo.
According to officials, four militants were also arrested after police and military forces raided a bomb and weapons storage facility belonging to Sinai-based Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, one of Egypt's most active militant organizations.
The militants opened fire on security forces and set off the car bombs, sparking a gun battle that lasted several hours, the ministry said.
The group has stepped up attacks on Egyptian security forces since the military ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last year. Last week, militants ambushed a military police checkpoint in Qalubiya, killing six army officers.
According to reports by Reuters, the militants have claimed responsibility for numerous high-profile attacks, including last month's bombing of a tourist bus in Sinai that killed two South Korean nationals and one Egyptian, a 2013 assassination attempt on an interior minister, and a January missile attack on a military helicopter that killed five troops.
Also Wednesday, an Egyptian court sentenced more than two dozen Islamists, many in absentia, to death over violent attacks in the port city of Suez. One man was also given a 15-year sentence.
Elsewhere in the Egyptian capital, police fired volleys of tear gas at clusters of young men around Cairo University, after student protests spilled into the main boulevard facing the campus. The protesters pelted police with stones and bottles in streets near the university.
Police prevented protesters at al-Azhar University on the opposite side of Cairo from going off campus, although young men threw stones at passing vehicles and police. Egyptian media also reported scattered clashes in Assyiut and several other towns across the country.
The Muslim Brotherhood website accused police of “assaulting students” at al-Azhar University and claimed the protests marked a “new revolution.” But the protests were fairly small compared to many in the three years since a popular uprising toppled long-time President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
Former Egyptian senator and American University of Cairo Political Science Professor Mona Makram Ebeid tells VOA she thinks the Muslim Brotherhood is hoping to prolong the uncertainty and instability in Egypt by calling for more protests.
The Wednesday protests came as many Egyptians expected an announcement by Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sissi that he would resign his post to run for president. Egypt's Masry al Youm newspaper said the announcement would take place “on Wednesday or by Thursday at the latest.”