Israel: Egypt embassy attack is 'blow' to ties

By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Sept. 10 2011 3:15 a.m. MDT

Egyptian activists demolish a concrete wall built around a building housing the Israeli embassy in Cairo, Egypt, to protect it against demonstrators, Friday, Sept.9, 2011. Arabic reads " liberation of Palestine begin from Egypt"

Amr Nabil, Associated Press

CAIRO — A senior Israeli official on Saturday denounced an overnight attack on his country's embassy in Cairo as a "blow to peaceful relations" between the two Mideast neighbors, adding to already growing tensions between the two nations six months after the ouster of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Israel's closest Arab ally.

Egypt put its police force on a state of alert after the overnight violence during which angry protesters broke into the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, tearing down a cement barrier around the high-rise building and trapping six staff members inside. The protesters dumped Hebrew language documents out of the embassy's windows.

The rampage, in which hundreds were injured, further worsened already deteriorating ties between Israel and post-Mubarak Egypt.

The Israeli ambassador, his family and most of the staff and their dependents — some 80 people — were evacuated out of the country by military aircraft overnight, the Israeli official said.

Only the deputy ambassador was still in Egypt, added the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

"That the government of Egypt ultimately acted to rescue our people is noteworthy and we are thankful," the official said. "But what happened is a blow to the peaceful relations, and of course, a grave violation of accepted diplomatic behavior between sovereign states."

Outside the Nile-side Israeli embassy in Cairo's neighborhood of Giza, thousands of protesters battled riot police and army troops into the early morning hours, hurling rocks at them. The police and army troops responded with tear and firing live ammunition into the air to try and disperse the crowd.

Several cars, police vehicles and trees on the streets outside the embassy were set ablaze. The violence subsided by around 6 a.m.

The state MENA news agency said 837 people were injured in the overnight clashes, including at least 46 policemen, while 19 protesters were arrested.

Earlier on Friday, hundreds of protesters tore down the embassy's security wall with sledgehammers and their bare hands. After nightfall about 30 protesters stormed into the embassy.

Just before midnight, the mob reached a room on one of the embassy's lower floors at the top of the building and began dumping Hebrew-language documents from the windows, said an Egyptian security official.

In Jerusalem, an Israeli official said the protesters reached a waiting room on the lower floor. Israel's ambassador, Yitzhak Levanon, his family and other embassy staff were rushed to Cairo airport and left on a military plane for Israel, said Egyptian airport officials.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information or speak to the media.

Since the February fall of Mubarak — who worked closely with the Israelis in his 29 years in power — ties have steadily worsened between the two countries.

Anger increased last month after Israeli forces responding to a cross-border Palestinian militant attack mistakenly killed five Egyptian police officers near the border. The militants, apparently from Gaza, had trekked across Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and sneaked into Israel, killing eight Israelis.

At the time, Egypt nearly withdrew its ambassador from Israel, and Cairo protesters demanded the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador. Calls have also grown in Egypt for ending the historic 1979 peace treaty with Israel, a pact never supported by ordinary Egyptians.

Several large protests have taken place outside the Israeli embassy in recent months but without serious incidents.

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