(Updates with comment from Egyptian minister in seventh paragraph.)
Sept. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Egypt’s ruling military council declared a state of emergency to restore order after protesters attacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his nation last night that the incident had damaged “the fabric of peace” between the two countries while declaring his commitment to the 32-year alliance.
Egyptian commandos rescued embassy security personnel and civil security forces dispersed protesters gathered outside the embassy for a second day. One person outside the embassy died of a heart attack and 448 people were injured in both incidents, Egypt’s state-run Nile News said. At least two people died in the embassy protests, the BBC reported, citing unidentified officials.
“The fact that the Egyptian authorities acted decisively to bring about the release of our people is commendable and deserves thanks,” Netanyahu said in a televised address from his office in Jerusalem. “At the same time, the Egyptians cannot ignore the heavy damage done to the fabric of peace with Israel and this extreme violation of international norms.”
U.S. President Barack Obama called on Egypt’s government “to honor its international obligations to safeguard the security of the Israeli embassy,” the White House said in a statement Sept. 9. Egypt’s state television reported that the Israeli ambassador went to Cairo airport to return to Israel.
Since the February ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, an ally of the U.S. and Israel, there have been increasing calls by many Egyptians for ending the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Tensions between the countries escalated as violence on their border flared in August, when militants opened fire on cars and buses near the southern Israeli city of Eilat. At least three Egyptian police officers died in the ensuing Israeli military response.
Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf called a Cabinet crisis group meeting after the incident at the embassy, state television reported.
“I don’t think that we can link what is happening now to what happened during the revolution,” Information Minister Osama Heikal in an interview with Al Arabiya television. “What is happening now is vandalism, it’s a crime in all measures, and we need to deal with these individuals by enforcing the law.”
At least 17 people linked to the embassy incident have been arrested, Al Jazeera television reported, citing an unidentified security official.
Demonstrators threw stones and tossed tear-gas canisters back at the security forces, mixing chants against Egypt’s ruling military council with denunciations of Israel, said Hatem Abdel Moneim Talima, an assistant professor at the American University in Cairo, who went to the embassy Friday and stayed until early yesterday.
“I have never seen that much tear gas used before, not even at the height of the revolution,” Talima said.
All Israeli diplomatic staff in Cairo are safe after Egyptian commandos rescued them, Netanyahu said. Embassy personnel have been returned to Israel, he said, and “our diplomatic delegate in Cairo will continue to represent Israel until the ambassador’s return.”
In a Sept. 9 telephone call with Netanyahu, Obama expressed his concern about events at the embassy and reviewed what the U.S. was doing to help resolve the situation “without further violence,” the White House said in its statement.
Praise for Obama
In his televised address, Netanyahu said Obama had told him “‘I’ll do everything I can.’”
“He did it,” Netanyahu said. “We owe him a special thanks.”
“What happened is a disaster,” Emad Gad, who heads the Israel studies program at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said in a telephone interview. “Israel will use this to make Egypt look like it’s incapable of providing security.”
The Islamic Hamas movement, which controls the coastal Gaza Strip, said on Aug. 22 that an informal agreement was reached with Israel to end violence that escalated after Aug. 18 attacks near the Red Sea resort of Eilat left eight Israelis dead. At least 14 Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes following that incident, and one Israeli was killed in a rocket attack.
--With assistance from Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem, Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv and Kate Andersen Brower in Washington. Editors: Walid El-Gabry, Paul Tighe
To contact the reporters on this story: Mariam Fam in Cairo at firstname.lastname@example.org; Nadeem Hamid in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Tighe at firstname.lastname@example.org