Egypt-Israel ties strained after border incidents, says analyst

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CAIRO: Relations between Egypt and Israel are likely to deteriorate following this week’s border incidents which resulted in the death of five Egyptian policemen, political analyst Emad Gad told Daily News Egypt.

Instead of apologizing for killing Egyptians on the border, he added, the Israeli side presented the issue as Egypt’s fault.

Security sources said that five policemen, including an officer, were killed on Thursday as Israeli and Egyptian troops combed the border area following attacks in Israel that killed eight.

Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak blamed in media statements the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip for the assault, criticizing Egypt for losing control over security in North and South Sinai and along the border with Israel.

Barak was quoted by Israel-based Jerusalem Post as saying, "The attacks demonstrate the weakening of Egypt’s control over the Sinai Peninsula and the expansion of terrorist activity there.

"These attacks originate in Gaza and we will act against them with full force and resolve," he added.

The attacks prompted Israel to chase infiltrators along the border and launch an air strike against the blockaded Gaza Strip that killed eight Palestinians and left tens injured.

South Sinai Governor Khaled Fouda denied that the gunmen who carried out the attacks in Israel had fired from Egypt.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed Egypt to follow through on its pledges to ensure security in the Sinai.

"This violence only underscores our strong concerns about the security situation in the Sinai Peninsula," Clinton said in a statement.

"Recent commitments by the Egyptian government to address the security situation in Sinai are important and we urge the Egyptian government to find a lasting resolution," she added.

According to Gad, a senior researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies who specializes in international relations, two factors contributed to the current situation: the existence of extremist militants in Gaza and the return of Egyptian militants to Sinai amid a security vacuum in the peninsula.

"The resolution of this situation is the responsibility of the army and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)… by seeking to amend an article in the 1979 peace treaty with Israel that would allow for adjustments in its terms after reaching consensus," he added.

SCAF has been running the country since former president Hosni Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11 following an 18-day nationwide uprising that demanded his ouster.

Based on the peace accord, Egypt can only deploy 750 army soldiers across the borders where neither choppers nor boats are allowed in the zone. "This led to the infiltration of militants and the trafficking of weapons across the borders [over the past years]. But it seems Israel wants the situation to remain at a standstill," Gad said.

This week, however, around 1,000 Egyptian soldiers were deployed for a special operation targeting militants in the area.

A number of factors have led to the state of tension between the two countries over the past few months including the detention of an alleged Israeli spy in June, the recent conviction of agents who spied for Israel and the Egypt’s former foreign minister sponsoring reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas in May.

Egypt’s desire to review the contract under which it exports natural gas to Israel in response to a public outcry has also chilled relations between the two sides.

The pipeline in North Sinai that delivers natural gas to Israel and Jordan was attacked by unidentified militants five times this year.

Mubarak is currently facing trial before a criminal court over several charges including the facilitation of exporting natural gas to Israel for below market prices.

Meanwhile, Egypt officially objected on Friday to the death of three members of its security forces near their border and demanded an investigation into the killings, the army said.

Egypt lodged a formal protest to Israel over the death of members of its security forces, and demanded an investigation into the deaths, an Egyptian army official told Reuters.

An army source was quoted by the official Middle East News Agency (MENA) as saying that Egypt closed the Al-Ouja border crossing until further notice. The crossing is used for trade exchange between the two countries.

Politicians react

Egypt’s political leaders and forces had earlier denounced the incidents considering them direct attacks against Egypt.

Presidential hopeful and former secretary general of the Arab League Amr Moussa said on Twitter: "The blood of the martyrs shed for the sake of their sacred duty will not be wasted."

Moussa warned Israel that gone are the days when similar incidents were ignored, referring to the era of the overthrown regime.

Another presidential hopeful, Mohamed ElBaradei, questioned the delay of SCAF’s reaction.

"In view of conflicting reports, where is SCAF’s statement about what occurred and what is happening in Sinai and across our borders and the measures taken to face the situation?” he tweeted.

The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) called for taking a strict stance towards what it called the "Zionist assault against Egyptian soldiers."

"The Zionist attacks along the Egyptian borders…require a reaction different from the case before the January 25 Revolution. Zionists must realize that Egyptian blood…is very precious," FJP secretary general Saad El-Katatny said.

El-Adl (Justice) Party called on SCAF "to take a firm stand towards such threats by summoning the Israeli ambassador to Egypt and suspending the bilateral relations as reaction to such practices." –Additional reporting by agencies

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