Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressed regret on Saturday for the deaths of
Egyptian security officers who were apparently shot by IDF troops as they
returned fire at the terrorists who carried out the attacks near Eilat on
Barak’s statement was aimed at reducing tension between
Jerusalem and Cairo, which peaked early Saturday morning with reports that Egypt
was recalling its ambassador from Tel Aviv due to the killing of the security
officers. Defense officials said they hoped the expression of regret would
succeed in annulling Cairo’s earlier decision.
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“Israel regrets the deaths
of the Egyptian officers that occurred during the attacks along the
Israeli-Egyptian border,” Barak said following security consultations he held on
Saturday at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. “The peace treaty between Israel
and Egypt is of great importance and strategic value for the continued stability
of the Middle East.”
Barak said he ordered the IDF to conduct a military
probe of the incident, and defense officials said it would likely be a joint
probe with the participation of the Egyptian military.
Egypt said the
security officers were killed Thursday when IDF forces pursued the armed
assailants who carried out a multi-stage terror attack, killing eight Israelis.
Egyptian anger over the incident intensified when Barak said Egypt was “losing
its grip” over the Sinai Peninsula.
According to an initial IDF probe,
the security officers were apparently killed when IDF soldiers opened fire in
the direction of terrorists who had first shot at them from within Egypt. The
terrorists had crossed into Israel and carried out their attacks directly adjacent to an
Egyptian military outpost.
On Saturday morning, Egypt announced it was
withdrawing its ambassador from Israel, citing the shooting of the security
personnel as a breach of its 1979 peace treaty.
Israel said it hoped that
after Barak’s comments, the Egyptian envoy, who had not yet left, would remain
in Tel Aviv.
“We hope the ambassador will not be recalled,” Yigal Palmor,
a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said. “He’s still here, that’s a fact.”
Israeli official said the attacks were clearly unintentional.
is sure, there is not a single person in Israel who wants to harm an Egyptian
policeman or soldiers,” Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry’s
Diplomatic-Security Bureau said.
State news agency MENA quoted an
Egyptian Foreign Ministry official as saying the Israeli ambassador was not in
“Egypt’s Foreign Ministry will summon the Israeli charge
d’affaires to convey Egypt’s official protest over gunfire from the Israeli side
in a way that led to victims falling inside Egypt,” the official
Egypt planned to ask for a “formal joint investigation to uncover
the circumstances of the incident and pin down those responsible and take legal
procedures to safeguard the rights of the Egyptian victims and casualties,” the
Hundreds of Egyptians protested alongside the Israeli
embassy in Cairo overnight, burning Israeli flags, tearing down metal barriers
and demanding the expulsion of the Israeli envoy.
Reuters contributed to