Three Israeli soldiers were killed in an attack near Egypt’s border after a gunman wearing an Egyptian police uniform opened fire – the first deadly exchange along the demarcation in more than a decade.
The Israeli military said an Egyptian policeman shot dead two soldiers while they secured a military post at the Egyptian border early on Saturday. It said the Egyptian officer and a third Israeli soldier were killed in a confrontation inside Israeli territory hours later.
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The Egyptian military said an Egyptian border guard crossed the border security barrier and exchanged fire with Israeli forces while he was chasing drug traffickers.
“A member of the security forces … chased drug smugglers. During the chase the security agent crossed the security fence [border]” and a gun battle ensued, a statement said.
The incident took place near the Nitzana and al-Awja border crossing between Israel and Egypt, 40km (25 miles) southeast of the point where Israel’s border with Egypt and the Gaza Strip converge. It is used to import goods from Egypt destined for Israel or the Gaza Strip.
Egypt’s Defence Minister Mohamed Zaki spoke by phone with his Israeli counterpart to discuss the shooting on the border, and “the mutual coordination to take measures to prevent such incidents in the future”, the Egyptian military said in a statement.
The Egyptian minister also offered condolences for the dead Israeli troops, it said.
Exchange of fire
Two of the soldiers were found dead at an Israeli military post after they failed to respond to their radios. The Israeli army said one of the killed soldiers was a woman. A fourth soldier was lightly wounded and evacuated to a hospital.
“During an encounter with an assailant in Israeli territory … an exchange of fire developed. Troops and commanders engaged [the suspect] and shot and killed him,” the army said.
Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said he conducted a situational assessment with the chief of staff and the military “will investigate the event as required”.
The investigation will include the possibility the shooting was related to smuggling activity, said Eliezer Toledano, the Israeli military’s Southern Command chief. “We will not leave any question unresolved.”
The Israeli military said it was unclear how the Egyptian officer crossed the border fence and soldiers were searching the area to rule out additional assailants.
According to Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Palestine, Walid al-Omari, the border was active between 2004 and 2012 until Israel built a 241km (150-mile)-long border fence that extends from Eilat and Taba on the Red Sea to the meeting point of the Egyptian-Israeli-Palestinian border east of Rafah.
The fence was to stop the entry of African refugees and migrants, and armed fighters linked to ISIL (ISIS) who are active in Egypt’s Sinai desert, he said.
Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and maintain close security ties. Fighting along their shared border is rare.