Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai Peninsula
Saint Catherine's Monastery, 6th century (UNESCO World Heritage List, 2002), Sinai Peninsula, Egypt.  De Agostini—Getty Images

Gunmen Kill Police in Attack Near Egypt's Iconic St. Catherine's Monastery

(CAIRO) — Gunmen attack ed security forces near St . Catherine's Mona st ery in Egypt's south Sinai on Tuesday, kill ing at lea st one police officer and injuring four others, the Health Mini st ry said, ju st a week after two deadly church bombings kill ed 45.

Islamic St ate claimed responsibility for the attack on a police checkpoint about 800 meters (yards) from the entrance to the mona st ery, one of the world's mo st important Chri st ian sites.

The attack comes ju st 10 days before Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Egypt and ju st over a week after two deadly suicide bombings on Chri st ian churches, also claimed by Islamic St ate, plunged the country into mourning and marked one of the bloodie st days for the country's Chri st ian minority in decades.

St . Catherine's , founded in the 6th century and located at the foot of Mount Sinai, is one of the olde st Chri st ian mona st eries in the world and a UNESCO world heritage site. It is part of the Ea st ern Orthodox church.

Egypt's Chri st ian minority, which makes up about 10% of the country's 92 million people, has increasingly been targeted by Islami st militants, with three deadly church attack s in the span of four months.

In February, scores of Chri st ian families and st udents fled North Sinai province after a spate of targeted kill ings.

A successful assault on St . Catherine's would be the late st challenge to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has pledged to protect the religious minority as part of his campaign again st extremism.

Egypt has for years been battling an Islami st insurgency in the rugged and thinly populated northern Sinai, which gained pace after the military overthrew President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 following mass prote st s again st his rule.

Attack s in Egypt's southern Sinai, a popular de st ination for touri st s dotted with Red Sea resorts, are by contra st rare.

Security sources told Reuters that security had been put on high alert at touri st facilities across southern Sinai after the attack .

The attack in southern Sinai comes as Russia is expected to make a long-awaited decision on whether to re st ore flights to the Sharm el-Sheikh resort after a Russian airliner was downed in 2015, dealing a serious blow to the area's tourism indu st ry, which relies heavily on Russian visitors.

Egypt's tourism indu st ry, a crucial source of hard currency, has suffered in the years of turmoil that followed the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, as well as from the suspected bombing of the Russian plane, which kill ed all 224 on board.

Israel took the unusual st ep earlier this month of barring its citizens from crossing into the Sinai peninsula, saying the threat of attack s in the area inspired by Islamic St ate and other jihadi groups was high.

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