Egyptians cut Israel links after airstrike

EGYPT withdrew its ambassador from Israel yesterday as the Arab League announced it would hold an urgent meeting today following an Israeli airstrike on the Gaza Strip which killed 15 Palestinians and five Egyptian nationals.

The violence, following attacks inside Israel which killed eight Israelis, has sparked the gravest crisis in Israeli-Egyptian ties since Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow in February.

Egypt said the killings breached its 1979 peace treaty with the Jewish state.

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An Arab League spokesperson confirmed the group would convene today, while Egypt said it “lays on Israel the political and legal responsibility for this incident, which constitutes a breach of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel”.

The official news agency Mena said the Egyptian death toll in Thursday’s violence had risen to five after two of seven wounded security personnel died of their injuries.

A few hundred Egyptians kept up a protest at the Israeli embassy in Cairo that began on Friday night. They burned Israeli flags, tore down metal barriers and demanded the expulsion of the Israeli envoy.

The cabinet ordered the foreign minister to summon the Israeli ambassador and demand an official apology from Israeli leaders for statements accusing Egyptian military rulers of losing their grip on the Sinai peninsula.

A senior Israeli defence official said Israel sees its treaty with Egypt as a “fundamental element of existence”. He said an investigation had not yet determined who had killed the Egyptian security personnel, adding that ties with Egypt were based on “dialogue and co-operation”.

Israel said Gaza militants armed with guns, explosives, mortars and an anti-tank missile killed eight of its citizens in a roadside ambush on Thursday after entering through the Sinai desert. The Egyptian troops were killed as Israeli soldiers pursued suspected militants fleeing back to Egypt. Israel has expressed concern about security in the Sinai peninsula and said the attackers originated in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.