Israel and Egypt are jointly investigating a bizarre incident on the countries’ borders that left three Israeli soldiers and an Egyptian policeman dead after a series of running gun battles.
While details remain unclear, the Israeli military said an Egyptian policeman shot and killed two of its soldiers while they secured a military post at the Egyptian border early on Saturday, after Israeli forces successfully thwarted a smuggling attempt overnight.
It said the Egyptian officer and a third Israeli soldier were killed hours later in a confrontation inside Israeli territory.
As soon as the two Israeli soldiers were discovered dead, the military treated the incident as a terrorist attack, Major General Eliezer Toledano, the Israeli military’s Southern Command chief, said.
The Egyptian military said the three Israeli and one Egyptian security personnel had been killed in an exchange of fire as the Egyptian security officer chased smugglers across the frontier.
Egyptian and Israeli officials are probing the circumstances of the incident in full co-operation, the Israeli military and two Egyptian security sources said.
Shrouded in mystery
“The fatal incident at the Egyptian border during the Sabbath is serious and unusual and will be thoroughly investigated,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
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.
An Israeli military representative said two soldiers had been shot while on duty in a relatively desolate area along the desert border with Egypt on Saturday morning.
Their bodies were found later, after they failed to answer the radio, the representative added.
Once the military understood the incident was ongoing, soldiers identified an infiltration into Israeli territory, leading to a gunfight in which the assailant, an Egyptian policeman and the third Israeli soldier were killed, the army said.
Toledano said Israel “will not leave any question unresolved,” including the possibility that the shooting was related to the smuggling activity overnight.
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.
It said in a statement that the Egyptian border guard was killed along with three Israeli troops.
Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said he conducted an assessment with the chief of staff and that the military “will investigate the event as required”.
Peace pact remains intact
The Egyptian army said its defence minister Mohamed Zaki offered his condolences in a phone call with Gallant and the two discussed taking necessary measures to avoid a repeat of the border shooting incident.
Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel and the more than 200km long border has largely remained calm.
The Israeli military said that while drug smuggling attempts in the area were frequent, the last known infiltration into Israel that resulted in casualties happened 10 years ago.
The exchange of fire on Saturday reportedly took place around the Nitzana border crossing between Israel and Egypt.
The crossing is located about 40km 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 Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
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