11 Sep 2011

Egypt in crisis over attack on Israeli embassy in Cairo

7:52 am on 11 September 2011

An Egyptian cabinet member says the country is in a deep crisis and those who ransacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo have hurt Egypt's image abroad.

Egypt is on alert after protesters stormed the Israeli embassy on Friday, prompting the evacuation of nearly all diplomatic personnel there.

Three people were killed when security forces moved in to deal with rioting.

State media say at least 448 people were injured in the clashes on Friday night and Saturday.

Information minister Osama Haikal says those responsible will be tried in emergency state security courts.

The BBC reports six members of the embassy staff were trapped inside the building during the riot and had to be rescued by Egyptian commandos.

The Israeli consul remains in Cairo as acting ambassador.

Daily protests have been held at the embassy since the killing of five Egyptian border guards in Sinai on 18 August.

Anti-Israeli feeling rose after an incident on the Gaza border last month.

Five Egyptian policemen were killed on 18 August when Israeli forces pursued Palestinians who had killed eight Israelis.

An Israeli official told the BBC that the intruders had entered consular offices, but not the main embassy.

After initially standing by, police moved against the protesters, firing tear gas. Several vehicles were set alight.

A BBC correspondent says the clashes at the embassy have shocked people both in Egypt and abroad.

Reports on State TV said Prime Minister Essam Sharaf had offered to step down but his resignation was refused by Field Marshal Tantawi, the country's military leader.

Under former President Hosni Mubarak, such violent displays of anger against Israel would not have been tolerated

The unrest began after Friday prayers, when thousands converged on Tahrir Square to demand faster political reforms following the ousting of Mr Mubarak in February.

Correspondents say tensions between Israel and Egypt have risen since President Mubarak was forced from office on 11 February.

Treaty implications

A treaty between Egypt and Israel was signed on 26 March 1979 by President Anwar Sadat and Prime Minister Menachem Begin at the White House and witnessed by President Jimmy Carter.

In a televised address in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will stick to the peace treaty with Egypt despite the attack.

''Israel will continue to hold fast to the peace accord with Egypt,'' Mr Netanyahu.

''We are working together with the Egyptian government to return our ambassador to Cairo soon.

''I would like to ensure that the security arrangements necessary for him and for our staff will be steadfast.

Mr Netanyahu also thanked President Barack Obama for American help to evacuate the embassy.

''He (Mr Obama) said, 'I will do all that I can.' He did that. He applied all of the means and influence of the United States of America, which are certainly substantial.''