Hundreds of Egyptians remained in front of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo on Sunday, vowing to continue the two-day rally until the ambassador’s expulsion.

Protests took a dramatic turn in the afternoon when a demonstrator scaled the 21- story building housing the embassy to take down the Israeli flag.

Ahmed al-Shahat – a 23-yearold building contractor from the eastern Nile Delta dubbed the “Egyptian Spiderman” – instantly become a national icon.

Hamdeen Sabahy, a presidential candidate with the Nasserist Dignity Party, issued a statement saluting Shahat, “the public hero who burned the Zionist flag that spoiled the Egyptian air for 30 years.”

In an interview with Al Jazeera’s recently launched Egyptian channel, Shahat said he gave a thumbs-up sign to an army officer standing behind a window on the building’s eighth floor, and the officer returned the favor.

“If the building was 100 floors high and not 21, I would have still climbed it,” Shahat told reporters. “All Egyptians slept soundly because of what I did.”

An American witness living in Cairo said troops did little to stop the protests on Saturday and Sunday at the embassy in Dokki, a Cairo suburb home to around 40 foreign missions.

“There were reports that people were coming from Tahrir Square, which is across the Nile,” Jesse Ayala Jr. told The Jerusalem Post from the Egyptian capital. “As the protesters started yelling and breaking down the barriers around the embassy, the military did very little to stop them – they just kind of watched.

“Throughout the night, tanks were coming in and out – just to rile the crowd, it looked like – and then they’d leave,” Ayala said.

He said troops did nothing when a group of protesters climbed onto the tanks waving the black flag, associated with jihadi groups, bearing the Shehada, or initial verse of the Koran.

Ayala – a 23-year-old photographer and filmmaker from Madison, Wisconsin – said most of the protesters were Egyptians angered at the death of five Egyptian security personnel on Thursday from Israeli fire, and at Saturday’s statement from Defense Minister Ehud Barak that Israel “regrets the death of Egyptian police officers.”

Ayala said demonstrators were demanding an official apology from Israel, but protesters told Reuters and Egyptian media they wouldn’t leave the embassy area until the Israeli ambassador was permanently expelled.

Some Palestinians were also in attendance, Ayala said, angered by Israel’s air strikes on Gaza in response to Thursday’s terrorist attacks in southern Israel. “I think they mistook the Egyptians’ outrage as a sign of solidarity, but that’s not the tone that I got from talking to people there,” he said.

Cairo’s Daily News newspaper reported protesters chanting “Egyptian blood isn’t for free,” burning Israeli flags and urging passersby to join them. The paper reported protesters demanding the withdrawal of the Israeli envoy and the Egyptian ambassador to Israel, an end to Egypt’s gas sales to Israel and a renegotiation of the 1979 Camp David peace treaty.

“We don’t want any Israeli entity on our land,” one woman told the paper. “We will not stand silent at the killing of our soldiers,” another protester said.

In a joint statement, 13 relatively liberal political factions – including the April 6 Youth Movement, Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution and the Democratic Front Party – expressed support for the demonstrators.

The statement said Egyptians must unite and solve internal issues to confront Israel’s attempt “to sway Egyptians from protecting their revolution,” the daily reported. Those issues include ending military trials for civilians and exposing members of the deposed Hosni Mubarak regime, described as “the eyes and tools” of Israel.

The Egyptian Bloc, another group of 14 comparatively liberal parties, expressed support for Egypt’s military and called on Egyptians to support it in the face of any aggression, while condemning Thursday’s “Israeli attack.”

Yet another joint statement, issued by a number of presidential hopefuls and parties including former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, the El Ghad party’s Ayman Nour, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Abdel Monem Aboul Fotouh and the secular, nationalist Wafd party described last week’s incident as an “example of Israel’s arrogance and racism, supported by America.”

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