September 10, 2011 (Al Jazeera)
September 10, 2011 (Al Jazeera)
Egypt has declared a state of alert after protesters stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo, prompting the ambassador and staff to flee, in the first attack of its kind since the two nations made peace 32 years ago.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, called Friday night’s attack a “serious incident”, but said Israel will continue to stand by the peace agreement with Egypt.
Addressing a news conference on Saturday evening, Netanyahu also thanked the US president and Egyptian security forces for their help in defusing the embassy crisis.
Egyptian officials said three people had been killed and more than 1,000 people injured in clashes between protesters and security forces near the embassy, following earlier peaceful demonstrations in Tahrir Square.
Protesters tore down a cement barrier around the high-rise building and dumped Hebrew-language
documents out of the embassy’s windows.
At least 20 suspects had been arrested following the attack, the Egyptian interior ministry said.
Egypt’s information minister Osama Hassan Heikal said those who took part in the violence would be sent to a emergency state security court.
Heikal said Egyptian authorities would apply “all articles of the emergency law to ensure safety” following the embassy attack, and respect international conventions regarding the protection of diplomatic missions.
Police and military forces remain stationed in front of the Israeli embassy, the Saudi embassy and the Giza security headquarters, which was also attacked late on Friday night.
“Things have calmed down considerably since this morning,” said Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from Cairo.
“There are about 100 people [in front of the Israeli embassy] just surveying the damage and talking to soldiers,” she said.
The protesters were rallying in the heart of Cairo against the slow pace of reforms by the current military council since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the former president.
They had also been angered by Israel’s killing of six Egyptian border guards last month, during an operation targeting gunmen who reportedly had killed Israeli civilians in cross-border raids.
The protesters were demanding the closure of the Israeli embassy, an end to gas exports to Israel and nullification of the Camp David agreement between the two countries.
A plane carrying Yitzhak Levanon, the Israeli ambassador, and around 80 others landed in Israel on Saturday, Israel Radio reported, as an Israeli diplomat condemned the attack as a “serious violation” of diplomatic behaviour.
Six Israeli embassy security officers who were still in the building early on Saturday morning were later rescued by Egyptian commandos, and then sent back to Tel Aviv on a second plane from Cairo, said Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston, reporting from Jerusalem.
Israel’s consul for state affairs was left behind to maintain its embassy, as Israel prepared its formal response to the attack by dozens of protesters on the building that houses its diplomatic mission.
US President Barack Obama earlier called on Egypt to “honour its international obligations” to protect the diplomats and told Netanyahu that Washington was taking steps to resolve the situation.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, also spoke with Mohamed Kamel Amr, the Egyptian foreign minister, who cut short a trip to Poland to return home to tackle the situation. Essam Sharaf, the Egyptian prime minister, also called a crisis cabinet meeting in the wake of the attack.
Pulling its diplomats even temporarily out of Egypt would represent another regional setback for Israel, which has already seen relations with Turkey – another erstwhile regional ally – turn sour amid anger over last year’s deadly raid by Israeli commandos on a Gaza-bound flotilla.
Israel imports about 40 per cent of its natural gas from Egypt.
Some Egyptians say Israel pays too little for the gas, and the pipeline that connects the two countries has been attacked at least five times since February.