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The fallout from the terrorist attack near the border town of Eliat this past Thursday that killed eight Israelis, and the subsequent pursuit of the murderers by Israeli security forces into Egypt that resulted in a confrontation with Egyptian police, killing as many as five, continues to be felt across the region.
Hamas launched a deadly barrage of rockets that killed one civilian and wounded twenty over the weekend, while Israel launched a series of air strikes that Hamas claims killed fourteen Palestinians. As Israeli politicians call for stronger action against the terrorists, the UN and Egypt are working to broker a cease-fire with Hamas. The terrorists agreed late Sunday to restoring the peace, but, according to the Associated Press, more rocket fire targeting Israeli towns was launched after the cease-fire deadline, and Israeli planes continued their strikes deep into Gaza. Apparently, not all Hamas factions have accepted the cease-fire and the violence continues.
The incident has sparked the most serious diplomatic row between Israel and Egypt since Hosni Mubarak was forced out last February. It has also further isolated Israel at a time when the Palestinian Authority is preparing to ask the United Nations General Assembly to grant it statehood.
Further complicating matters is the growing insecurity along the Egyptian border as Palestinian infiltration into Gaza is now augmented by concerns about the Sinai crossing. The terrorists made their way from Gaza into the Negev Desert and then crossed into Israel. Also, there are concerns about the ability of the Egyptian army to keep weapons and explosives from making their way into Gaza since the Rafah border crossing was opened by the new Egyptian government. And there are concerns about how committed the Egyptian army is to securing the border as it seeks to respond to popular opinion that is rabidly anti-Israel.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni said on Friday, “The border with Egypt is no longer a peaceful border and we need to change the way we treat it.” Egypt denies claims that the terrorists infiltrated into Israel from the Sinai, and also scoffs at the notion that the border security has weakened in the region since the fall of Mubarak. Israel thinks that the Egyptian army doesn’t see guarding the border with Israel as a top priority anymore. Indeed, attacks on the gas pipeline that supplies Israel and Jordan proves the Israeli’s point. No doubt, the government will be forced to address this additional threat to Israel by beefing up security along the 250 mile-long border.
The deaths of the Egyptian policemen who engaged Israeli forces in hot pursuit of the terrorists has angered the Egyptian people and government. The Egyptian government threatened to recall its ambassador to Israel if the Israelis didn’t apologize for the killings. Late Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak issued a formal statement saying, “Israel is sorry for the deaths of Egyptian policemen during the attack along the Egyptian-Israeli border,” while a foreign ministry spokesman said in another statement that “Israel expresses deep regret” over the incident. Barak also called for a joint investigation of the incident with the Egyptian military.
The Egyptian cabinet refused to accept the apologies because it was “not in keeping with the magnitude of the incident and the state of Egyptian anger toward Israeli actions.” But even though it appears Israel’s statements of regret was rejected, there are conflicting reports whether or not the Egyptian ambassador has been recalled. The Israelis claim they have received no information from the Egyptian government that any kind of rupture was imminent.
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