CAIRO — Egypt branded Islamist gunmen who killed 16 police near the Israeli border as “infidels” and promised today to launch a crackdown following the massacre that strained Cairo’s ties with both Israel and Palestinians.
An Egyptian official has said “Jihadist elements” crossed from the Gaza Strip into Egypt before leading the assault on a border station. They then stole two armoured vehicles and headed to nearby Israel, where they were killed by Israeli fire.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said today that eight assailants died in the attack, adding that he hoped the incident would serve as a “wake-up call” to Egypt, long accused of losing its grip in the desert Sinai peninsula.
The bloodshed represented an early diplomatic test for Egyptian
President Mohamed Mursi, an Islamist who took office at the end of June after staunch US ally Hosni Mubarak was overthrown last year in a popular uprising.
Mubarak cooperated closely with Israel on security and suppressed Islamist movements such as Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood whose leaders often voiced hostility towards the Jewish state.
Egypt’s military, which still holds many levers of power in the most populous Arab nation, called the attackers “infidels” and said it had been patient until now in the face of the instability in Sinai.
“But there is a red line and passing it is not acceptable. Egyptians will not wait for long to see a reaction to this event,” it said in a statement on its Facebook page.
A demilitarized Sinai is the keystone of the historic 1979 peace deal between the two countries.
But for the past year there has been growing lawlessness in the vast desert expanse, as Bedouin bandits, jihadists and Palestinian militants from next-door Gaza fill the vacuum, tearing at already frayed relations between Egypt and Israel.
Addressing a parliamentary committee in Jerusalem, Barak praised the work of Israeli forces in blunting Sunday’s attack, with the Israeli airforce swiftly swinging into action and destroying one of the vehicles after it breached the border.
“Perhaps it will also be a proper wake-up call to the Egyptians to take matters in hand on their side in a firmer way,” he said. (Reuters)