Author : Reuters | Readings : 31 | Date : 2012-08-06
CAIRO - An Egyptian security source said on Sunday the Rafah border crossing with Gaza had been closed indefinitely, the state news agency MENA reported, after an attack on a police station in Sinai killed at least 15 officers.
"A security official announced on Sunday evening that the Rafah land port had been closed for cases of travel and arrivals indefinitely. This comes in the wake of the attack by gunmen on a border checkpoint in Rafah in Sinai," MENA said.
Gunmen killed at least 15 Egyptian policemen and seized an army tank in the assault on a police station near the border with Israel.
Gaza's Hamas rulers condemned the attack, which took place near the border crossing where the Egyptian, Israeli and Gazan frontiers converge.
"Hamas condemns this ugly crime which killed a number of Egyptian soldiers and extends its deep condolences to the families of the victims and to the leadership and the people of Egypt," the Islamist group said in a statement.
Hamas closed the tunnels to Egypt through which it smuggles goods to avoid an Israel's blockade. Residents said the atmosphere was tense.
MENA quoted an Egyptian security official as saying the attack was staged by militants who infiltrated from Gaza through tunnels and others from the Sinai region.
"Jihadist elements who infiltrated from Gaza through tunnels, in collaboration with jihadist elements from the regions of Al-Mahdia and Jebel El Halal, attacked a border point on the eastern border," the official was quoted as saying by the MENA news agency.
The official said the militants tried to escape to Gaza using two cars after the attack, but were "dealt with", MENA said, without adding any further details.
The attack, which saw Israeli aircraft destroy a vehicle used by the gunmen to try to storm the fortified border, was the first major security emergency for Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, who summoned his military council.
Israel has previously accused Palestinian militants in Gaza of involvement in militant activity in Sinai, where insecurity has spread since the US-aligned Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, was toppled by a citizen revolt last year.
Sunday's attack will force Egypt and Israel to engage at a time when both are still in the process of recalibrating their relationship after Mursi, an Islamist, assumed office at the end of June. It may also test Egypt's relationship with Hamas if it is shown that Palestinian gunmen were involved.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "Thanks to the determined action of the (Israeli army) and the Shin Bet (internal security agency), a big attack against Israeli civilians was prevented."
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called for "determined Egyptian action" to "prevent terror in Sinai".
"Elements of a jihad organisation drove SUVs into one of the checkpoints south of the Rafah border," Egyptian state television said. It said 15 security forces personnel had been killed and at least 7 wounded.
It was not clear how many attackers were involved.
"There was an exchange of fire with the attackers who seized an army tank and used it to make a second attack in Rafah," the Egyptian television report said.
Israeli military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich said gunmen had seized two vehicles. One exploded and the second was destroyed by Israeli aircraft.
Fortified border triangle
In a statement, a spokesman for Netanyahu said: "The terrorists who killed the Egyptian security men seized two Egyptian military vehicles and tried to storm the Israeli border."
He said the vehicle that tried to breach the border was destroyed at the Kerem Shalom crossing into the southern Gaza Strip, a military zone where the borders of Israel, Egypt and Gaza intersect.
A television journalist based in North Sinai said the area was sealed off by Egyptian security forces, who had blocked the road from the main town of el-Arish in the direction of the Gaza border crossing at Rafah.
Earlier on Sunday, an Israeli air strike killed a Palestinian gunman from a radical Islamist group and wounded another as they rode a motorbike in southern Gaza near the Egyptian border.
It was not immediately possible to confirm whether the incidents were linked.