Egyptian minister: Israeli embassy breach was a 'crime'

Cairo's information minister says incident undermined values of January revolution; Security beefed up around Israeli mission.

Egyptian protester holds documents from the Israeli embassy (photo credit: REUTERS)
Egyptian protester holds documents from the Israeli embassy
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The storming of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo was a crime, Egypt’s information minister said Sunday, charging Friday’s rioters with undermining the popular revolution that toppled longtime president Hosni Mubarak seven months ago.
“The incident was an insult to Egypt – it is not fair to link it to the January revolution,” Osama Heikal said, according to Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper. “The January revolution had been a genuine, peaceful revolt that sought to bring down and replace the old regime... The current events in Egypt aim to destroy the country and induce chaos,” the paper quoted Heikal as telling the satellite channel Al-Arabiya.
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Sameh Saif al-Yazal, an Egyptian security expert, told the daily that the government’s celebration of the man who tore down the embassy’s Israeli flag during protests last month suggested it approves of his actions. The climber, Ahmed al-Shahat, was rewarded by the governor of his home Sharqiyeh province with an apartment and a job.
On Sunday, Egyptian authorities took additional precautions to ensure security at the embassy.
“The security in front of the embassy has been enhanced,” cabinet spokesman Mohamed Higazy told Reuters. “Returning back to normalcy is the objective for both sides.”
About 16 trucks full of police and security personnel, three buses of military police, two armored personnel carriers and other vehicles were parked near Israel’s mission, located on the upper floors of a tower block next to the Nile.
Traffic passed smoothly through the adjoining junction that a day before had been strewn with bits of concrete and debris.
Charred police vehicles were in a side street near the embassy.
Egypt said it would try those behind the violence swiftly in emergency state security courts, and has detained 111 people in connection with the incident.
Three people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in clashes with security forces Friday night.
Many Egyptians sympathize with the sentiments of those demonstrating against Israel, but activists, politicians and ordinary citizens have also criticized the violence.
“I don’t want [the ambassador] to come back because Israel doesn’t respect anyone, but if they are in our country, then we should be able to protect them,” said Mohamed Kamhawy, 28, an engineer working two blocks from the embassy site.
Ahmed Amr, 23, another engineer, said: “Tearing down the wall was right. They shouldn’t have built it in the first place. But invading the embassy was wrong.”
Meanwhile, Egypt has begun the trial of former top officials accused of sending men on horseback and camels charging into a crowd of protesters on one of the most violent days of the uprising that ousted Mubarak in February.
The assault by the horse and camel riders, who whipped the crowd as they galloped into Tahrir Square on February 2, was one of the most startling images of the 18-day uprising and helped galvanize protests among Egyptians shocked by the violence.
Among the group of 25 people on trial are Fathi Sorour, former speaker in the lower house of parliament, and Safwat Sherif, former head of parliament’s upper house who was a longtime confidant of Mubarak. Both denied charges against them.
After the first day of the trial was shown on television, Judge Mustafa Hassan Abdullah said Sunday that live broadcasts of future hearings would be banned, except for the session in which the verdict would be pronounced.
Abdullah did not give a reason for the decision, but it echoes a similar move by the judge overseeing the trial of Mubarak himself, who is charged with conspiring to kill protesters. Two sessions of Mubarak’s trial were broadcast before a ban was imposed.
Asked about the charges made against him, Sorour told the judge: “It did not happen and I have no relation to this matter.
The accusation is false and these are all pure fabrications.”
Sherif said: “I deny this completely.”
As in all criminal cases, the defendants sat in a metal cage in court during the hearing.
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who heads Egypt’s ruling army council, had been due to testify behind closed doors on Sunday at Mubarak’s trial but postponed his appearance saying he with busy with security issues after unrest over the weekend.
Tantawi’s testimony was to have been given under a complete news blackout, which the judge said was for reasons of national security.
Reuters contributed to this report.