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Middle East
Arab League blasts Israel for Egyptian deaths
Cairo meeting condemns Israel for killing five Egyptian policemen, saying expression of regret for deaths is not enough.
Last Modified: 21 Aug 2011 14:11
Egyptian outrage over the killing of five officers has signalled a drastic shift in Egypt-Israeli relations  [Reuters]

Representatives of Arab League states have condemned "the Israeli attack on the Egyptian forces" saying that Israel bears "full responsibility for this crime".
Permanent members of the league issued the statement blasting Israel on Sunday after holding an urgent meeting in the Egyptian capital of Cairo to discuss what it called "dangerous Israeli aggression" on the Gaza Strip.

Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh reported from Egypt: "Although it is a low-level meeting, it comes as part of the apparent intensified diplomatic pressure on Israel." 

Earlier on Sunday, Egypt's cabinet said a statement of "regret" from the Israeli defence minister for the deaths of the five policemen was not enough. But it stopped short of saying if it would recall its ambassador to Israel.

"The Israeli statement was positive on the surface, but it was not in keeping with the magnitude of the incident and the state of Egyptian anger toward Israeli actions," the official MENA news agency quoted a cabinet statement as saying on Sunday.

MENA said the cabinet insisted on a timetable for an Israeli offer of a joint investigation into the deaths on Thursday as Israeli troops pursued fighters who carried out attacks earlier in the Negev that killed eight.

"Egypt affirms its solicitude for maintaining peace with Israel, but Israel must also assume responsibility for protecting this peace," it said.

The reaction came as thousands of Egyptians protested late on Saturday outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo, housed in the top floor of a high-rise building.

Israeli flag removed

An Egyptian protester clambered up to the embassy overnight, took down its flag and replaced it with an Egyptian one as more than 1,000 people protested over the border deaths of their policemen.

The red, white and black Egyptian flag fluttered from the embassy as demonstrators cheered and chanted "Long live Egypt!" and lit fireworks in the night sky.

Protesters say they will continue demonstrating until Egypt expels the Israeli ambassador, stressing the steps taken so far are not enough, according to state TV reports.

On Saturday afternoon, the foreign ministry summoned Israel's charge d'affaires for a reprimand.

The envoy, who was summoned because the ambassador was outside the country, read out a statement by Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, expressing regret for the deaths and offering a joint probe, Egypt's foreign ministry, said.

"Israel is sorry for the deaths of the Egyptian policemen during the attack on the Israel-Egypt border," Barak said after Egypt threatened to withdraw its ambassador to protest the deaths of its soldiers.

Egyptian state television had reported earlier in the day that Egypt would recall its ambassador from Tel Aviv, but Israel said it received no notification of the decision.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that "at no time has Israel been officially notified of a recall of the Egyptian ambassador."

After conflicting reports, Information Minister Osama Heykal was quoted by MENA as saying five policemen were killed "inside Egyptian territory as a result of an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and armed elements inside Israeli territory".

Israeli officials accused Palestinian fighters in Gaza, which also borders Egypt, of planning the attack and carrying it out after slipping into the Negev desert from Egyptian territory.

Egypt has denied the gunmen used its territory and bristled at suggestions that it had lost control of the Sinai Peninsula.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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