Israel in Talks with Egypt to Return Ambassador After Embassy Attack

Posted September 11th, 2011 at 10:05 am (UTC-5)
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Israel says it is talking to Egypt about returning an ambassador to Cairo after rioters burst into the Israeli embassy there Friday, prompting an evacuation of Israeli personnel to Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet Sunday the Israeli-Egyptian talks are focused on the security arrangements necessary to protect the Israeli ambassador and his staff.

Mr. Netanyahu said the Egyptian rioters who tore down the Israeli flag at the embassy building “oppose peace” between the two neighbors, who signed a peace treaty in 1979. But, he praised moderate forces in Egypt whom he said want to advance peaceful relations with Israel.

Egyptians opposed to that relationship stormed into a Cairo apartment building housing the Israeli embassy after smashing through a security wall late Friday. The rioters threw embassy documents from windows and fought with Egyptian police who tried to restore order. The violence continued until early Saturday, killing three people and wounding about 1,000 others.

Israeli officials said Sunday that six Israeli security guards were holed up in the embassy during the break-in, hiding behind a door and firing shots in the air as rioters ransacked an adjacent room. They say Egyptian commandos later rescued the Israeli guards from the building.

No Israelis were seriously hurt. Israel flew the guards, ambassador and other diplomatic staff back home early Saturday, but kept the deputy head of mission in Egypt to maintain diplomatic contacts.

Egypt's government held an emergency meeting Saturday to deal with the aftermath of the embassy attack and put security forces on high alert. Egyptian Information Minister Osama Heikal said authorities will take all necessary measures to preserve order. He said the assault at the embassy was an attack on Egypt's image, adding “it is clear that the behavior of some threatens the entire Egyptian state.”

Washington expressed deep concern about the attack on the Israeli embassy. The U.S. State Department said Saturday Israel and Egypt are key U.S. allies who have reaffirmed a commitment to maintain their peace treaty, which it called a cornerstone of regional stability. It said the United States remains strongly committed to doing all it can to support that relationship.

Diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt have been tense since Israeli forces killed five Egyptian police officers last month along the Israel-Egypt border while responding to a cross-border militant raid that killed eight Israelis on the Israeli side.