Sun, Jun 04, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Israelis kill two Egyptian officers

BAD TIMING The flareup near the Israeli-Egyptian border came just two days before the leaders of both countries were to meet to jumpstart peace talks


Two Egyptian security officers were killed on Friday in an exchange of fire with Israeli troops after crossing the border into Israel.

The deadly shooting took place just two days before the leaders of Israel and Egypt were to meet for the first time in 16 months, in an effort to jumpstart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Both sides said the other shot first, and that the bodies were found on their side of the border. Essam el-Sheik, the head of Egyptian police in the border area, said it wasn't clear why the Egyptian security officers crossed into Israel.

A military official from Israel's Southern Command said attackers let loose a volley of fire on an Israeli hilltop military post around 6am. The Israeli forces identified three armed men and returned fire, he said. Two were hit and the third fled, he said.

Israeli troops went over to the bodies and discovered the men were dressed in Egyptian security force uniforms, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the record. They were carrying assault rifles, and dozens of bullet casings lay on the ground nearby, he said.

A fence and a border marker clearly demarcated the boundary, he added.

He characterized the incident as a rogue activity.

The exchange of fire "doesn't characterize our relations with the Egyptians," he said. "We have good relations with them and will continue to cooperate with them."

The head of the Southern Command, Major General Yoav Galant, went to the scene to conduct a preliminary investigation, and met with Egyptian officials, the military said.

Major Assaf Shatzkin. deputy commander of the armored battalion involved. told Channel 2 TV that it was "a case of two terrorists wearing the uniform of a foreign army, armed with radios and Kalashnikov [assault rifles], who without a doubt crossed the border to attack forces in the field."

Egyptian police said three Egyptian security personnel exchanged fire with the Israeli soldiers after crossing the border and that two of them were killed.

It wasn't clear why they crossed over into Israel, el-Sheik said. Israeli troops fired first, he added.

Egypt's Interior Ministry said in a statement that two policemen were killed, and that their bodies were found 200m inside Egypt from the Israeli border.

Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979, and their border is usually quiet, except for occasional drug smuggling into Israel.

But in November 2004, Israeli troops killed three Egyptian police along the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip, having mistaken them for Palestinian militants. Last year, Egyptian security officers began policing the border with Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were to meet today in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik to discuss ways to renew long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at a time when Hamas militants opposed to Israel's existence rule the Palestinian Authority.

It will be the first meeting between Israeli and Egyptian leaders since then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met with Mubarak to announce a truce.

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