Last Updated: Thu Aug 25, 2011 22:17 pm (KSA) 19:17 pm (GMT)

Israel set to ease strains with Egypt amid threats that armed groups plan attacks on border

An Egyptian soldier stands guard at the Egyptian Rafah crossing, north of Sinai. (Photo by Reuters)
An Egyptian soldier stands guard at the Egyptian Rafah crossing, north of Sinai. (Photo by Reuters)

Israel offered on Thursday to investigate jointly with Egypt the killing of five Egyptian security personnel during an Israeli operation against cross-border raiders a week ago as an Israeli security source warned that armed groups were planning attacks along the Israeli-Egyptian border in order to damage ties between the two countries.

“Israel is ready to hold a joint investigation with the Egyptians into the difficult event,” a statement issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office quoted his national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, as saying, according to Reuters.

Amidror said the terms of such an inquiry “would be set by the armies of both sides,” going a step beyond Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s earlier pledge to hold an investigation and share its findings with Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

While moving to ease tensions with Egypt, Israel also staged further attacks against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, where more than 20 rockets have been launched at southern Israel since Wednesday despite a truce announced on Monday.

Eight Palestinians, including a local commander of the Islamic Jihad group in Gaza, have been killed in the latest bloodshed, medical officials said, raising to 26 the number of Palestinians killed in Israeli air strikes in the past week.

An Israeli man has also been killed in rocket attacks launched by Gaza militants since the weekend.

The surge of violence began on August 18 when gunmen who Israel said had infiltrated from Gaza via Egypt’s neighboring Sinai desert killed eight Israelis on a desert border road.

Seven of the attackers were killed by Israeli forces and Egypt said five of its men died in the crossfire. The incident touched off the most serious diplomatic row with Egypt since a popular revolt overthrew Hosni Mubarak in February.

The violence between Israel and Gaza militants threatens to shred the shaky truce mediated by Egypt and the United Nations.

UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry, in a written statement, expressed his “deep concern” and called on all sides “to immediately take steps to prevent any further escalation.”

Taher al-Nono, a Hamas spokesman, said any “understanding for calm must be mutual and we will not accept that Israel continues its killing of our people.”

An Israeli security source told AFP on Thursday that armed groups were planning a number of attacks along the Israeli-Egyptian border in order to damage ties between the two countries.

“There are very serious intelligence warnings that in order to harm Israel-Egypt relations, more attacks are being planned,” he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

During Thursday’s hunt for the gunmen, defense officials were “certain” that nine gunmen involved in the attacks had been killed “in Israeli territory or on the border,” the source said.

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