Monday 18 December 2017

Thirty-year ties between Israel and Egypt under strain

Gwen Ackerman in Tel Aviv

Ties that have lasted three decades between Israel and Egypt came under strain on the third day of Israeli-Gaza Strip violence that began after eight people died in an attack that Israel blames on Gaza infiltrators who entered its territory from Egypt.

And last night it looked as though the tit-for-tat killings were set to continue, as rescue services reported one person killed and at least four others injured after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck the Israeli city of Beersheba.

Earlier yesterday Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Israel deeply regretted the deaths of Egyptian troops killed during a shootout between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants.

Mr Barak said he had ordered a military investigation and a joint inquiry with the Egyptian army to clarify the circumstances of last Friday's incident, when militants from Gaza crossed into southern Israel through the Egyptian desert and launched a deadly attack that killed eight Israelis.

At least three Egyptian troops were killed in a subsequent shootout between Israeli soldiers pursuing the militants along the Israeli-Egypt border. The Egyptians had threatened to withdraw their ambassador to Israel unless an apology was made.

In Gaza, the death toll from Israeli strikes reached 14, said the head of emergency services. The casualties came during what Israel's military said was the targeting of smuggling tunnels, weapons factories and squads launching rockets. More than 45 rockets hit Israel, wounding four people, damaging cars and buildings, the military said.

The violence was the worst between Israel and Gaza since April and raised the possibility of a more extensive Israeli military operation in the seaside strip that Hamas has controlled since 2007, after ousting forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction. The group won parliamentary elections the year earlier.

Hamas has denied any involvement in yesterday's attacks. The group, which has refused to negotiate with Israel or recognise any agreements signed with it, is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and the EU.

Islamic Jihad, a smaller Gaza militant group, sent a text message to journalists, claiming responsibility for firing 15 Soviet-designed Grad rockets at Israel.

The violence comes amid Israeli concerns that Egyptian security forces have been losing control of the border area since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February.

Egyptian natural-gas supplies to Israel, which gets about 40 percent of the fuel from Egypt, were disrupted after four attacks on the pipeline network since February.

Sunday Independent

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