Israel ‘Regrets’ Deaths of Egyptian Troops in Border Battle

Posted August 20th, 2011 at 3:25 pm (UTC-5)
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Israel has expressed regret for the deaths of Egyptian security personnel in fighting between Israeli troops and suspected Palestinian militants along the Israel-Egypt border on Thursday.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Saturday Israel “regrets” the deaths of the five Egyptian officers and will conduct a joint investigation of the incident with the Egyptian military.

Earlier in the day, Egypt's military-led government threatened to withdraw its ambassador to Israel in protest at the killings, blaming them on Israeli troops whom it said violated the two neighbors' 1979 peace treaty. Israeli officials said Saturday the Egyptian ambassador was still in the country.

Thursday's incident began when militants crossed into southern Israel and attacked Israeli buses, cars and security personnel who rushed to the scene. Eight Israelis were killed, including six civilians and two officers. Israeli troops fired back, killing at least five assailants in a battle along the Israeli border with Egypt's Sinai peninsula.

Israeli officials say it is not clear who killed the five Egyptian officers during the fighting. They also say the militants crossed from the Gaza Strip into Sinai before sneaking into Israel across a largely unfenced border.

The Egyptian government said Saturday Israel must investigate the killings and apologize for statements claiming that Egypt's control over the Sinai peninsula is “weakening.” Senior Israeli defense official Amos Gilad said no Israeli security forces would intentionally harm their Egyptian counterparts.

The Quartet of Mideast peace mediators issued a statement condemning the militant attack in southern Israel as “premeditated terrorism” and calling for those responsible to be quickly brought to justice.

The United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations also expressed “concern about the security situation” in Sinai and urged Cairo to find a “lasting resolution” to the problem.

Hundreds of Egyptians gathered outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo late Friday to protest the killings of the Egyptian officers. The demonstrators burned Israeli flags and called for the Israeli ambassador to be expelled.

Israel has carried out a series of air strikes on militant targets in Gaza in retaliation for Thursday's attack, killing at least 14 Palestinians, most of them militants. Israeli officials say one of the initial strikes killed the leaders of the militant group that planned the cross-border raid.

Gaza militants have fired dozens of rockets at southern Israeli communities since Thursday in response to the air strikes, killing one Israeli and wounding at least 16 other people. Hamas militants who control Gaza said Friday they are ending a two-year truce with Israel.

The Arab League says permanent representatives of its 22 members will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss the violence in the region. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation's Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu issued a statement condemning Israel for what he called an “unjustified escalation” and “ugly crime” against Gaza civilians.