Egypt on alert, Israeli ambassador withdraws
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry opened an emergency situation room after the Israeli embassy in Cairo was stormed by hundreds of Egyptian protesters. As the Egyptian Ministry of Internal Affairs operates in emergency mode, all employees’ vacations have been cancelled.
The Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Yitzhak Levanon, together with his family and other embassy staff, has left Egypt and set off for Tel-Aviv.He will however return to Egypt when security is fully guaranteed, Al Arabiya reports.
They had been waiting to be evacuated by a military plane at Cairo airport. They refused to communicate with the press or leave the country on a regular flight for security reasons.
A group of protesters have reportedly managed to break into the Israeli Embassy early on Saturday morning. Demonstrators destroyed a part of the wall around the building and pulled down the Israeli flag – for the second time in less than a month. However, an Israeli official told Reuters news agency that the embassy itself has not been breached.
According to reports a group of about 30 protesters broke into an apartment one floor below the embassy and stole a number of documents. Several people are reported to have been arrested. In response to the arrests, demonstrators tried to seize the police office, but police dispersed the crowd with tear gas.
At least three people have been killed and at least 1,093 people injured, including 300 police officers, according to Egyptian Deputy Health Minister Hamid Abaza. One more person has reportedly died of a heart attack. Israeli officials stated that no embassy personnel have been injured.
Egypt’s Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and a number of ministers were expected to resign during a meeting with the country’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) chief Hussein Tantawi for failing to handle Friday’s riots in the country’s capital Cairo. The SCAF rejected the resignations, however, Al Arabiya reported.
The siege comes after the protests on Tahrir Square that broke out over the killing of five Egyptian solders in the Sinai district. Some demonstrators crossed the Nile into Giza to destroy the wall Egyptian authorities had built around the Israeli embassy. Egyptian police stood aside watching as protesters set about the concrete wall with hammers and large metal rods.
Tensions between the two countries, which flared up after the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, became even more heated in mid-August when five Egyptian border guards died in an Israeli security operation. The Israeli army, which was hunting down the gunmen it held responsible for shootings in southern Israel, reached the Sinai district.
After the incident, Egypt threatened to withdraw its ambassador from Tel Aviv. Israel ordered an investigation into the deaths of the Egyptian soldiers, but has not offered a full apology.
Moscow is concerned about the protests and is calling on all parties to display restraint.
"Moscow expresses its serious concern about the events that have occurred and is calling on all parties to display restraint and not to allow further escalation of tensions surrounding the Israeli embassy in Cairo," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its website on Saturday.
Egyptian Presidential candidate Abdallah Al Ashal told RT that Egyptians grew furious because they believe the Egyptian government is very lenient with the Israelis in the first place, but now some of the Egyptians are encouraged by the government to attack the embassy, thus calming the Egyptians down, he explained.
“The person who pulled down the flag was rewarded – he was given an apartment! The youth thought that to regain dignity you have to attack the embassy,” he explained.
Egypt's interim military government had promised to uphold the 1979 peace deal with Israel, but has since reopened its border with Gaza. And according to Al Ashal the relations in general will deteriorate.