CAIRO, Aug 20 (AFP) - Egypt has decided to withdraw its ambassador from Israel to protest the deaths of five policemen killed on the border during retaliatory attacks on Palestinian militants, state television said today.
“Egypt has decided to withdraw its ambassador to Israel until there is an official apology,” it said.
The Egyptian government had asked “for an official apology from Israel” at the end of a crisis meeting overnight, the state-run MENA news agency reported in a statement. Information Minister Osama Heykal was quoted as saying by MENA that five policemen were killed “inside Egyptian territory as a result of an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and armed elements inside Israeli territory.”
It is the second time that Egypt, the first Arab country to have signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, recalls its ambassador from the Jewish state. In November 2000 Egypt recalled its envoy from Israel to protest over what it said was “the excessive use of force by Israel against the Palestinians after the second intifada,” Palestinian uprising. Egypt's military chief of staff, Sami Enan, headed to the Sinai on Friday to probe the deaths of the policemen killed a day earlier.
There have been conflicting reports from the Egyptian military and police about how they lost their lives. A military official told Egypt's official MENA news agency on Thursday that they were killed by stray Israeli helicopter fire aimed at the fleeing gunmen.
But on Friday, the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper quoted a military official as saying the policemen were killed by gunmen trying to slip in from Israel.
Enan's visit was announced shortly after another policeman was declared dead following a border gunfight on Friday, which left one of his comrades gravely wounded with a bullet in the head. Earlier, Israeli security sources told AFP they had information that a man had blown himself up on the Egyptian side of the border, saying they believed he was one of the men on the run.
Friday night hundreds of people demonstrated outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo demanding the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and denouncing the Jewish state for the attacks. “Sinai, Sinai,” the crowds shouted in reference to the Sinai peninsula where the Egyptian policemen were killed and “Down with Israel. The people want the ambassador out and the Israeli flag down.”
Prime Minister Essam Sharaf has said in a message published on his Facebook page: “Egyptian blood is too precious to be spilled for no reason.”
“Our glorious revolution took place so that Egyptians could regain their dignity at home and abroad. What was tolerated in pre-revolution Egypt will not be in post-revolution Egypt,” he said.