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Cairo: Israeli Embassy ‎Violently Attacked

Translated Sunday 18 September 2011, by Shelagh Rothero and reviewed by Bill Scoble

The Israeli Embassy in Cairo, a city both sensitive to, and symbolic of, the peace treaty concluded between the two countries in 1979, was attacked on Friday evening by demonstrators, during a violent demonstration in front of the embassy which resulted in three deaths and about 450 wounded.

The demonstrators who had "invaded" the diplomatic mission threw "confidential" documents from an embassy office situated at the top of a building some twenty storeys high, according to MENA, the official Egyptian news agency. A journalist from the French Press Agency (AFP) reported that numerous gun shots were heard throughout the neighbourhood and several police vehicles were burnt or damaged. On Saturday, hundreds of soldiers and several armoured cars were massed close to the embassy, which is situated on the west bank of the Nile in the Guiza neighbourhood, with the street lighting switched off. According to Egyptian airport sources, the Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Yitzhak Levanon, left Cairo by plane early on Saturday with his retinue. The ambassador and his family had arrived earlier at the airport to "take a flight back to Israel", according to another airport source.

The American president, Barack Obama expressed his "extreme concern" to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and had requested the Egyptian authorities to protect the representative, announced the White House. "The president expressed extreme concern over the situation at the embassy, and the safety of the Israelis who worked there", stated American sources. Obama had also ‘reviewed measures that could be taken by the United States at all levels to assist in finding a solution to this situation without further violence, and had appealed to the Egyptian government to honour its international obligations to protect the safety of the Israeli embassy. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak had telephoned the American Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, during the night to request support for the protection of the Israeli embassy, according to a communiqué from Barak’s office.

MENA stated that eyewitnesses had reported that the demonstrators had attacked diplomatic archives, one floor below the chancellery. During the afternoon, demonstrators armed with hammers, iron bars and ropes had knocked down a protective wall which had been erected by the Egyptian authorities a few days previously in front of the building sheltering the mission, already the target of several demonstrations. One Egyptian demonstrator later succeeded in removing the Israeli flag from the embassy flagpole for the second time in less than a month.

Relations between Egypt and Israel are passing through a delicate phase, following the death of five Egyptian policemen killed when Israeli forces were pursuing suspected attackers in the Eilat region in the south of Israel, close to the Egyptian frontier, on 18 August. Egypt is the first Arab country to have concluded a peace agreement with the Hebrew state, in 1979.

The demonstration in front of the embassy took place following a gathering of many thousands of people during the day in Tahrir Square, in another part of Cairo, to press for reforms and democracy, seven months after the fall of president Hosni Moubarak and the army take-over. State television reported that Prime Minister Essam Charaf had called an emergency meeting of his cabinet on Saturday. The Minister of the Interior has declared an emergency situation, and suspended all police leave.

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