Egyptian officers crossed near Mount Sagi and opened fire.
By YAAKOV KATZ
The IDF is to launch a comprehensive investigation into a shoot-out on Friday along the southern border that left two Egyptian police officers dead after they infiltrated Israel and opened fire at a nearby Israeli tank crew.
An initial investigation of the incident conducted by OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant found that the tank crew had acted according to proper tactical procedure and returned fire at what appeared to be two terrorists shooting in its direction.
The Egyptian officers in uniform entered 150 meters into Israel near Mount Sagi in the Negev, and opened fire at a nearby Israeli military force. The troops returned fire and killed two infiltrators, with soldiers claiming to have seen a third officer flee back into the Sinai desert. The men were found wearing Egyptian military uniforms and in possession of two AK-47 rifles, nine cartridges and a communications device.
The incident occurred two days before Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was scheduled to head to Sharm e-Sheikh for talks on Sunday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the situation in the Palestinian Authority and his withdrawal plan from the West Bank.
While the soldiers were commended by their commanders for acting appropriately in neutralizing an incoming threat, senior IDF officers said the incident carried more question marks than answers. The IDF officials did not rule out the Egyptian claim that the officers had entered Israel in pursuit of smugglers and that the Egyptian officers had fired at them, and not at the Israeli troops stationed nearby.
"This is a very strange incident," an officer explained. "Egyptian officers opening fire on our troops is something we did not expect would happen."
Following the incident, Egyptian military officers entered Israel to conduct their own independent investigation of the shoot-out and met with Galant. Israeli officials estimated that the incident, which they said was isolated, would not affect the good relationship the IDF has with the Egyptian military. The bodies were returned late Friday to Egypt.
"This appeared to be an isolated incident and has nothing to do with it and will not impair the relationship that we have with the Egyptian army," one officer said.
While shooting incidents along the southern border were rare, the IDF pointed out that Mount Sagi was a crossing point frequently used by Beduin smuggling drugs, arms and prostitutes into Israel.
The IDF recently bolstered its presence along the unfenced border to prevent smuggling and infiltrations by Palestinian terrorists from the Gaza as well as operatives affiliated with al-Qaida and believed to be hiding out in the Sinai desert a mere 30 kilometers from Israel.
Meanwhile over the weekend, two Kassam rockets landed in Sderot on Saturday and caused minor damage to parked cars. On Tuesday several rockets landed in the southern town just meters away from the home of Defense Minister Amir Peretz.
Also Friday, IDF troops snatched a wanted terror suspect from his hospital bed as he was recovering from wounds he sustained during a gun battle with troops earlier in the week in Nablus. The army said that Juad Qabiya, 24, was responsible for manufacturing suicide-bomb belts as well as roadside bombs for a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror cell operating in Nablus.
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