Islamist gunmen killed at least 15 Egyptian police on Sunday and seized two military vehicles to attack a crossing point into Israel, the deadliest incident in Egypt’s tense Sinai border region in decades.
Israeli aircraft destroyed one of the armored vehicles and four of the gunmen were killed, Egyptian security sources said. Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak called for “determined Egyptian action” to “prevent terror in Sinai”.
The attack is an early diplomatic test for Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, an Islamist who assumed office at the end of June after staunch U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak was overthrown last year in a popular uprising.
It may also complicate Egypt’s relations with Hamas, the Islamist rulers of the Gaza Strip that borders Egypt and Israel who are close to Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, if it is shown that Palestinian gunmen were involved.
Israel has accused Palestinian militants in Gaza of involvement in militant activity in Sinai, where insecurity has grown since Mubarak was toppled.
The gunmen ambushed the Egyptian border police who had gathered to break the Muslim Ramadan fast after sunset. “Elements of a jihad organization drove SUVs into one of the checkpoints south of the Ramah border,” Egyptian state television said, referring to the main Gaza-Egypt crossing point. It said 15 security forces personnel were killed and at least 7 wounded.
One of the stolen army vehicles exploded as the militants tried to storm the Israeli border and the second was targeted by the Israeli air force at the Kermes Shalom crossing into southern Gaza, a military zone where the Israeli, Egyptian and Gaza borders intersect, a spokesman for Netanyahu said. It was not clear how many attackers were involved.