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Gunmen from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula attacked vehicles carrying Israelis who are building a border fence, killing one of the workers, an Israeli army spokeswoman said.
The attack with small arms and explosives took place at about 6 a.m. today 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of the Gaza Strip, Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovich said in a phone interview. At least two of the gunmen were killed after Israeli forces returned fire, while a third is thought to have fled back across the border, she said.
The attack, which followed the firing of rockets from Sinai into southern Israel over the weekend, raised concerns in Israel about worsening security on the border with Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with the Jewish state more than three decades ago.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which has criticized the accord with Israel, and former premier Ahmed Shafik both claimed victory in Egypt’s presidential election. Votes are still being counted after the runoff election between the two men ended yesterday, and official results are due June 21.
“We see here a disturbing deterioration in Egyptian control in the Sinai,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, according to an e-mailed statement from his office. “We are waiting for the results of the election. Whoever wins, we expect them to take responsibility for all of Egypt’s international commitments, including the peace treaty with Israel.”
The military governor of north Sinai, Major General Abdul Wahab Mabrouk, said Egypt “fully secures its borders with Gaza and Israel and the borders are fully under its control,” the official Middle East News Agency reported. “There was no detection of any elements entering or infiltrating from Sinai at all,” Mabrouk said, according to MENA.
Israel also staged two air raids on Hamas-controlled Gaza, killing four Palestinians, according to the army and a Gaza emergency services spokesman, Adham Abu Selmeya. The two Palestinians killed in the first strike were part of a squad of snipers operating adjacent to the fence separating Gaza from Israel, according to an e-mailed army statement. The other two were trying to launch rockets into Israel, a second statement said.
An Israeli air raid late yesterday, which left five Palestinians injured, was in response to rockets fired from Gaza, the army said.
The violence came a day after an Israeli tow-truck driver shot and killed two Palestinians in the West Bank after he said they attacked him, according to police.
Israel wants Gaza “to sink in blood” and it’s trying to “distract attention from the results of the presidential elections in Egypt,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a telephone interview from Gaza. “We hold Israel responsible for the escalation.”
Israeli officials have voiced concern about the close links between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic movement that controls the Gaza Strip and opposes the Oslo peace deal with Israel that is supported by the Palestinian Authority. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.
The relationship between Israel and Egypt has frayed since Hosni Mubarak, who maintained the peace agreement, was forced out by street protests in February last year.
The Sinai is turning into a “kind of Wild West” used by militant Islamic groups to smuggle weapons and attack Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in April. Eight Israelis were killed in a cross-border attack by Palestinian militants near the southern resort city of Eilat last August.
A natural gas pipeline running through Sinai to Israel has been bombed 14 times by Islamic militants since February 2012. The supply cuts resulted in Egyptian exports to Israel dropping to $179 million last year compared with $355 million in 2010, and Egypt terminated the supply agreement in April.
Israel is building a fence along the 240-kilometer (150- mile) border to block militants and African migrants from entering the country from Sinai. The government has said the estimated 1.35-billion shekel ($360-million) project is expected to be completed by year’s end.
Netanyahu told a meeting of his Likud party in Jerusalem that today’s attack wouldn’t slow the project. “Its construction is a supreme national interest,” the prime minister said, according to an e-mailed statement from his office. “I believe that if we hadn’t decided two years ago to build the fence, we would be facing a flood of infiltrators and -- no less than this -- a flood of terrorism.”
Israeli officials have also expressed concern over the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip through tunnels dug underneath the Sinai border.
“This isn’t Mubarak’s Egypt and it definitely isn’t an Egypt of peace or quiet,” Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a member of the Israeli parliament and former defense minister who was close to Mubarak, said on Army Radio. “This is a different Egypt. What it will be and how it will act only heaven knows.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem at firstname.lastname@example.org; Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at firstname.lastname@example.org