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Militants Attack Israelis Across Egyptian Border, Renewing Concerns on Sinai (NY) TIMES) By ISABEL KERSHNER JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 06/19/12) Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/19/world/middleeast/israeli-workers-attacked-at-border-with-egypt-1-dies.html?gwh=74CC5A4A820572B7A242E4F3F111E5EF
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JERUSALEM — An attack by militants along the border with Egypt early Monday killed an Israeli construction worker, deepening anxiety here over growing lawlessness in the Sinai Peninsula at a time of political upheaval in Cairo.
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Israel briefly deployed a tank in the area while the attack was under way, possibly violating the terms of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, which limits Israeli military forces to four infantry battalions in the border area.
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The Israeli military said that a terrorist squad had crossed into Israel from Egyptian territory and ambushed two cars carrying civilians employed in the construction of a security fence along the border. The assailants fired a rocket-propelled grenade and an AK-47 assault rifle and set off explosive charges, hitting one of the vehicles, according to military officials.
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The worker who was killed was identified as Sayed Fashafsheh, 36, an Arab citizen of Israel from the northern port city of Haifa.
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Two of the assailants were killed in an ensuing clash with Israeli forces when Israeli gunfire detonated a large amount of explosives carried on one of their bodies, the military said. A third was believed to have escaped back into Egypt.
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“We see here a disturbing deterioration in Egyptian control in Sinai,” Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, said hours after the attack.
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“We are waiting for the results of the election,” he added, referring to the presidential race in Egypt. “Whoever wins, we expect them to take responsibility for all of Egypt’s international commitments, including the peace treaty with Israel and the security arrangements in Sinai, swiftly putting an end to these attacks.”
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On Saturday, two rockets landed in open areas of the desert in southern Israel, apparently fired from the Sinai Peninsula, as well.
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Israeli officials did not immediately say who might have been responsible for Monday’s ambush, but in the past, Israel has blamed Palestinian militant groups in Gaza for planning attacks from across the Egyptian border.
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An Israeli military official said there were “similarities” between Monday’s attack and one last August, which Israel said had been sponsored by a group in Gaza.
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Adding to the tensions, the Israeli military said it carried out two airstrikes in northern Gaza on Monday, one against what it said was a “terrorist squad of snipers” operating near the border fence with Israel and another, it said, against a squad attempting to fire a rocket into Israel.
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Two members of Islamic Jihad were killed in the first strike, according to the militant group, and Palestinian medics said that two more Palestinians were killed in the second strike, raising the specter of another round of violence across the Israel-Gaza border, including rocket attacks against southern Israel.
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Last August, eight Israelis were killed in a multipronged attack from across the once-quiet Egyptian frontier near the Israeli resort of Eilat.
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In that episode, Israeli forces killed three of the perpetrators who had crossed into Israeli territory and five Egyptian officers were accidentally killed by Israeli security forces as they chased down the attackers on the Egyptian side, bringing Israel and Egypt to the brink of a diplomatic crisis.
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Enraged Egyptians ransacked the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, further shaking the peace accord that was already under strain after the Egyptian revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, Israel’s former ally in preserving the cold peace between the countries.
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Col. Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman, said that the explosives and gear carried by perpetrators of Monday’s attack were similar in quality and quantity to those used in August. And like in August, she said, some participants in the attack remained on the Egyptian side of the border.
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But this time, Colonel Leibovich said, there was no attempt by Israel to pursue or fire on the attackers in Egyptian territory.
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Israel has been treading carefully to avoid any impression of interference in Egyptian affairs at a time of high tension and uncertainty. As the military rulers in Egypt moved to consolidate power, preliminary results showed that the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi, had won as president.
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Experts note that Israel has not carried out any pre-emptive or retaliatory strikes in Egyptian territory, to avoid any violation of Egyptian sovereignty that could drag Israel and Egypt into open confrontation. Israeli military officials say they maintain close contact with their Egyptian counterparts.
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“We must do everything to cope with terror from Gaza and from Sinai while respecting Egyptian sovereignty and the peace agreement,” Amos Gilad, a senior official in the Israeli defense ministry, told Israel Radio on Monday.
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But Israeli experts say that the rugged terrain of the Sinai Peninsula, inhabited by disgruntled Bedouin tribesmen, has become a fertile recruitment and operational ground for Islamic militant groups and that the Egyptian military has been reluctant to take on Bedouin militias.
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“Although the peace treaty may survive, the border is fast becoming a burning front, a zone of constant military friction,” said Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
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Mr. Yaari said that despite the military restrictions of the Israel- Egypt peace treaty, the situation called for new arrangements in the Sinai Peninsula, including allowing Egyptian troops to move into areas closer to the border with Israel.
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Some Israeli analysts suggest that even an Islamist president in Egypt would have an interest in restoring stability in the Sinai Peninsula.
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“It is a clear interest of any Egyptian president to stop Sinai from becoming a launching ground for Al Qaeda-inspired groups or Islamic Jihad,” Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Cairo, said in a recent interview. Fares Akram contributed reporting from Gaza. (Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company 06/19/12)
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