Egypt withdrew its ambassador from Israel on Saturday, saying that the killing of five Egyptian security personnel while Israeli forces pursued gunmen across the border was a breach of its 1979 peace treaty with the Jewish state.
Israel said it regretted the deaths, which followed attacks inside Israel that killed eight people and sparked the most serious crisis in Israeli-Egyptian ties since former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow in February.
Israel said it hoped that after Barak’s remarks the Egyptian envoy, who had not yet left, would remain in Tel Aviv.
“We hope that the ambassador will not be recalled,” Yigal Palmor, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said. “He’s still here.”
Egypt “lays on Israel the political and legal responsibility for this incident, which constitutes a breach of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel”, the cabinet said in an official statement posted on its web site.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Israel regretted the deaths of Egyptian security personnel. Seeking to ease the tension with Cairo, he said he had instructed the Israeli army to conduct a joint investigation with Egypt into the incident.
Egypt’s foreign ministry will summon the Israeli charge d’affaires to “convey Egypt’s official protest over gunfire from the Israeli side in a way that led to victims falling inside Egypt,” state news agency Mena quoted a ministry official as saying. He said the Israeli ambassador was not in Cairo.
The official said Egypt planned to ask for a “formal joint investigation to uncover the circumstances of the incident and pin down those responsible and take legal procedures to safeguard the rights of the Egyptian victims and casualties”.
Hundreds of Egyptians protested at the Israeli embassy in Cairo overnight, burning Israeli flags and demanding the expulsion of the Israeli envoy.
A senior Israeli defence official earlier said Israel seems keen to maintain its peace treaty with Egypt.
“One thing is for sure, there is not a single person in Israel who wants to harm an Egyptian policeman or soldiers,” Amos Gilad, a liaison officer with the Palestinians and Egypt, said on Israel Radio.
He said an investigation had not yet determined who had killed the Egyptian security personnel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been consulting cabinet ministers about a response, said an official who asked not to be named.
The cabinet decisions followed a crisis meeting attended by army generals and Egyptian intelligence chief Murad Muwafi.
“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 statement said.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2011.