Egypt yesterday said it withdrew its ambassador from Israel pending an investigation by the Jewish state of the killings of Egyptian security personnel at the border, in a sign of rising tension between the two countries.
The Egyptian Cabinet also summoned the Israeli ambassador in Cairo in protest, demanding an apology from Israeli leadership over statements made accusing Egyptian military rulers of losing their grip on the Sinai Peninsula.
An Egyptian army officer and four Egyptian security men died when Israeli troops pursued gunmen who killed eight Israelis on a road running close to the Egyptian border on Thursday. Five other Egyptian security men were wounded.
The incident has posed a major test for ties between Israel and Egypt following the uprising that ousted former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and strengthened forces hostile to the Jewish state.
Israel expressed concern about security in the Sinai Peninsula and said the attackers infiltrated from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip via Egypt’s Sinai desert, despite stepped-up efforts by Egyptian security to root out Islamist radicals.
Cairo rejected the charge it has lost control of Sinai and accused Israeli officials of making “irresponsible and hasty statements” and attempting to blame Egypt for negligence on part of Israeli security in protecting the Jewish side of the border.
“The Cabinet committee has decided to withdraw the Egyptian ambassador in Israel until the result of investigations by the Israeli authorities is provided and an apology from the Israeli leadership over the hasty and regrettable statements about Egypt is given,” the Cabinet said on its official page online.
“The Cabinet assigns the Egyptian foreign minister to summon the Israeli ambassador in Cairo ... in protest over shootings on the Israeli side of the border that led to deaths on the Egyptian side,” state TV reported.
Both Cabinet decisions came after a four-hour-long meeting held by the crisis management committee and were announced on state TV and on the Cabinet’s online page.
Egyptians have been enraged by the killings, with hundreds of protesters staging an emotionally charged demonstration at the Israeli embassy in Cairo late on Friday, burning an Israeli flag and calling for the expulsion of the ambassador.
The Sinai forms a huge desert buffer zone between Egypt and Israel, which sealed an historic peace treaty in 1979, agreed by then-Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and then-Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, after fighting two wars in less than a decade.