Israel 'regrets' Egyptian police deaths, Egypt demands end to Gaza strikes
Israel regrets the deaths of five Egyptian security personnel killed during an Israeli pursuit of Gaza-based militants, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Saturday after Cairo announced it was recalling its ambassador to Tel Aviv in protest.
Mr. Barak said he has instructed the Israeli army to hold "a joint investigation with the Egyptian army to clarify the circumstances of the incident," a written statement said.
"Israel regrets the deaths of Egyptian policemen during the attacks on the Egyptian-Israeli border," Mr. Barak said about Thursday's assault by gunmen in the Eilat region of Israel, AFP reported.
But Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defense official, said earlier it remained unclear how the Egyptians died.
"No (Israeli) soldier intentionally aims any weapons at Egyptian police or soldiers," Mr. Gilad said, adding that "perhaps terrorists fired at them, or something else occurred."
This was the first major diplomatic row between Israel and Egypt’s transitionary military rulers since a popular revolt overthrew Egyptian former President Hosni Mubarak in February, a long-time ally of Israel.
Egyptian state media announced on Saturday that Egypt was withdrawing its ambassador from Israel pending an investigation by the Jewish state of the border killings. Egypt is also demanding an apology for statements accusing the Egyptian military of losing its grip on the Sinai peninsula, Reuters reported.
But despite state media announcing that Egypt was recalling its ambassador to Tel Aviv, Israel said it had received no official notification from Egypt of this.
"At no time has Israel been officially notified of a recall of the Egyptian ambassador," foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
Meanwhile, Egypt had also called on Israel to immediately halt the ongoing punitive strikes on the Palestinian Gaza Strip after militants carried out deadly attacks in Israel.
"Egypt denounces the use of force against civilians in any circumstance and strongly advises Israel to immediately stop its military operations against Gaza," a foreign ministry statement said.
Eight Israelis were killed in separate attacks on Thursday near the border when gunmen opened fire on buses and cars. International condemnation of the attacks from the White House and other European states labeled the attacks on Israel as “terrorist” and “barbaric.”
Israeli forces carried have since carried out air strikes in retaliation, targeting those blamed for the attacks in Gaza.
The air raids have killed 14 people in Gaza over the past two days, while Palestinian fighters in the territory have launched more rockets into southern Israel, injuring three people.
Protests in Egypt over the Egyptian police deaths erupted outside of the Israeli embassy in Cairo since Friday, with some protesters torching Israeli flags as they called for the expulsion of the Jewish state's envoy.
After the anti-Mubarak uprising which proved to be overwhelmingly pro-Palestinian, protesters are now more encouraged to demonstrate against Israel.
"Israel must be aware that the days when it kills our children without getting a strong, appropriate response are gone for ever," Amr Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister and ex-Arab League chief, said on his Twitter feed.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf wrote on his Facebook page that "the blood of Egyptians is too precious for it to be spilled without a response."
"Our glorious revolution was made to restore dignity, Egyptians' dignity at home and abroad, and what was acceptable in Egypt before the revolution is no longer acceptable after the revolution," he wrote.
Since the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty signed in 1979, Egypt has only recalled its ambassador from the Israel twice; once during a Palestinian uprising in November 2000, and another time during the 1982 war in Lebanon.
A monitoring force stationed in the Sinai said on Saturday that Israel violated the 1979 treaty when its troops entered Egyptian territory and fired on security personnel, state news agency MENA reported.
"The (Multinational Force and Observer) recorded two violations committed by Israel," MENA said, citing an MFO report.
"The international forces said in their report on the deaths of Egyptian security personnel that the violations were entering Egyptian territory and firing in the Egyptian side of the border."
But MENA said the MFO report did not say whether there were grounds for Israel's accusations that militants it was pursuing on Thursday when the Egyptian policemen died along the border had infiltrated its Negev desert from Egypt, AFP reported.