Egypt said on Saturday that it is withdrawing its ambassador from Israel pending an investigation by Jerusalem of the killings of Egyptian security personnel at the border, Egyptian media reported. The announcement came as a sign of rising tension between the two countries.

Separately, Egypt was reportedly acting as a mediator between Israel and Hamas in an effort to stop the escalation taking place in the Gaza Strip.

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Egypt's cabinet also summoned the Israeli ambassador in Cairo in protest of the events in Sinai and their aftermath, demanding an apology from Israeli leadership over statements made accusing Egyptian military rulers of losing their grip on the Sinai peninsula.


An army officer and two Egyptian security men died when Israeli troops pursued gunmen who killed eight Israelis on a road running close to the Egyptian border on Thursday. Seven other Egyptian security men were wounded.

Responding to the reported Egyptian move, Defense Ministry Diplomatic-Security Bureau head Amos Gilad said that relations with Egypt are a strategic asset and need to be preserved, saying that "nobody in the security establishment or the IDF had any intention of harming Egyptian policemen or soldiers," in an interview with Israel Radio Saturday morning.

Gilad added that Israel has not received any request from Egypt to discuss changing the peace agreement between Jerusalem and Cairo in place for over 30 years. He described the peace between the two countries as a "strategic asset" and "fundamental."


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was consulting with cabinet ministers about a potential response, an official said on condition of anonymity, regarding what has become a diplomatic incident with the new Egyptian military rulers installed after a revolt overthrew long-time ally Hosni Mubarak in February.

London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat reported Saturday that Egypt has also been mediating between Israel and Hamas in an effort to stop the escalation in the Gaza Strip.

According to the report, Egypt delivered a message from Jerusalem to Hamas that Israel was only targeting the elements responsible for the terror attack in Eilat that left eight people dead on Thursday and would stop its strikes on Gaza if rocket fire into Israel stopped.

The incident has posed a major test for ties between Israel and Egypt following the uprising that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak and strengthened forces hostile Israel.

Jersualem expressed concern about security in the Sinai peninsula and said the attackers infiltrated from the Gaza Strip via Egypt's Sinai desert, despite stepped-up efforts by Egyptian security to root out Islamist radicals.

Cairo rejected the charge it has lost control of Sinai and accused Israeli officials of making "irresponsible and hasty statements" and attempting to blame Egypt for negligence on part of Israeli security in protecting the Jewish side of the border.

"The Cabinet committee has decided to withdraw the Egyptian ambassador in Israel until the result of investigations by the Israeli authorities is provided and an apology from the Israeli leadership over the hasty and regrettable statements about Egypt is given," Egyptian media quoted the Egyptian Cabinet as saying.

"The Cabinet assigns the Egyptian foreign minister to summon the Israeli ambassador in Cairo ... in protest over shootings on the Israeli side of the border that led to deaths on the Egyptian side," state TV reported.

Both Cabinet decisions came after a four-hour-long meeting held by the crisis management committee and were announced on state TV and on the Cabinet's online page.

Egyptians have been enraged by the killings, with hundreds of protesters staging an emotionally charged demonstration at the Israeli embassy in Cairo late on Friday, burning an Israeli flag and calling for the expulsion of the ambassador.

The Sinai forms a huge desert buffer zone between Egypt and Israel, which sealed an historic peace treaty in 1979, agreed by former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and prime minister Menachem Begin, after fighting two wars in less than a decade.


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