09/10/2011, 00.00
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Cairo: Israeli embassy attacked, state of emergency declared

Tensions remain high in the Egyptian capital after protesters assail Israeli embassy. Violence continues today, with gunfire around the building. Two dead and nearly 500 injured. Netanyahu : a disaster avoided. Catholic sources confirm tension, fears of a Islamic drift.
Cairo (AsiaNews) - Egypt has declared a state of emergency after the attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo yesterday, at the end of Friday prayers. The battle continued well into the night and tensions have failed to subside in the capital. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, spoke of "serious accident" and “a disaster avoided," thanks to the intervention of the Egyptian special forces who rescued six diplomats from the mission. An official in Jerusalem, on condition of anonymity, revealed that there is already "deep security concerns". The ambassador Yitzhak Levanon has already returned to Israel, while the Egyptian authorities reported that the toll from the clashes is two dead and nearly 500 injured.

Yesterday afternoon, at the end of Friday prayers, the protesters headed towards the Israeli embassy in Cairo to protest against the erection of a security barrier outside the embassy. The tension had been mounting for days: the demonstrators were protesting against the killing - which took place on August 18 last – of five Egyptian border guards by Israeli soldiers. The Israeli army had made a series of raids in response to the triple attack on two buses in Eilat, the Red Sea resort town in southern Israel, and the explosion of some mines as a military convoy was passing . Seven Israeli civilians died in the attacks, while at least 30 were wounded, including some soldiers.

This morning the Israeli government completed the evacuation of the diplomatic mission in Cairo. At least 80 people - including officials and their families - have left the Egyptian capital.

At least 30 people stormed into the embassy, throwing a number of books and documents out of the windows. The urban warfare between demonstrators and police continued today near the Israeli embassy and the university, where automatic gunfire was heard.

Contacted by AsiaNews Fr Rafik Greek, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, speaks of a "really terrible" situation of "fear and concern." The fear, the priest says, is that the protesters could storm a police headquarters in the area and steal all the weapons. A situation he calls "complicated." He criticizes the decision in recent days to erect a wall around the building that houses the embassy, calling it a "bad idea" because it "created the same feeling of the wall built by Israel in the West Bank." A terrible psychological effect, he adds, for the Egyptian population.

Fr. Rafiq also reveals that groups of people engaged in the assault on the embassy had a Koran in their hand or pocket. An element which could confirm concerns about an Islamic fundamentalist drift in Egypt’s protests. "The military - said the priest - do not want a confrontation with Israel, but Jerusalem should also maintain a more relaxed attitude to avoid tensions" in the region. The danger is that the street riots in Egypt could be a prelude to an Islamic revolution as was the case in nearly 30 years ago with the takeover of the ayatollahs and the assault on the U.S. embassy. "I hope not - the priest concludes - but at the moment we do not know how this will develop".

Meanwhile, the Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharif has summoned a Cabinet emergency meeting, to discuss the situation. The attack occurred two days before the visit of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the first by a senior political leader of Turkey in 15 years. The bilateral meeting had raised concerns in the Israeli government, which fears a possible alliance between the two Arab countries that could contribute to isolation of Israel in the region. Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu thanked U.S. president Barack Obama for support, while setting up a crisis unit. However, so far, the historic peace treaty of 1979, the first signed by the Jewish state with an Arab country, does not appear to be in question. (DS)

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