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August 19, 2011

Egypt Angered by Israel's 'Regret' for Border Guard Deaths

by Edward Yeranian

Egypt says it will withdraw its ambassador from Israel following Israeli military action that killed three members of Egypt's security forces along the two nations' border.  Israel says its military action was aimed at Gaza militants who had staged attacks inside Israel, and that it regrets the deaths.  But that has done little to calm public anger in Egypt.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak promised a full investigation of what happened Thursday at the Egyptian-Israeli border, and said Israel regrets the deaths of the three Egyptians.  His comments were seen as less than an apology for Israel's actions while pursuing militants from Gaza who had staged attacks in southern Israel, and public reaction was swift here in Cairo.  

Angry street protests outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo have been going on for several days, and the Egyptian press has mounted a war of words against the Jewish state.

An Egyptian army checkpoint protects the Israeli embassy in Cairo's Giza district, but hundreds of protesters tried to break those barriers early Saturday.  The crowd chanted slogans calling for expulsion of Israel's ambassador in Egypt, and demanded suspension of a controversial agreement with Israel for the sale of natural gas.

One middle-aged activist said the killings of the Egyptian soldiers requires retaliation by Egypt. 

He said the people will not accept that killing of any Egyptians at the border, either by accident or intentionally.  An era of "turning the other cheek" is over, this demonstrator insists.  He says the Egyptian people will react if their government and Supreme Military Council do not.

A government spokesman, Information Minister Osama Haikal, said Egypt can defend its lengthy cross-Sinai border with Israel, but that both states must share the responsibility of keeping the peace there.

Egypt can protect its border and ensure that it controls Sinai, the information minister says, while stressing that Israel and Egypt both are responsible for security there.

Said Sadek, who teaches political sociology at the American University in Cairo, says both Egypt and Israel are exploiting the current climate for domestic political purposes, and to divert attention away from internal crises.

"Foreign policy is always an excuse for trouble in domestic policy," said Sadek.  "Both Egypt and Israel are having domestic problems.  And so, the skirmishes that took place near the Egyptian-Israeli border [are] serving both sides politically in the domestic field."

Sadek says Egypt's ruling Supreme Military Council and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu probably both have gained domestic support over the past few days, but he asks:

"Would that escalate into a war?  Look, I don't think so," added Sadek.  "Both sides are playing on the verge of a conflict to serve the domestic agenda, but I don't think they will go as far as that."

Israel's airstrikes in Gaza have been answered by salvos of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza, which continued Saturday.

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