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Egypt envoy: Initial agreement to restore ceasefire

Aug. 20, 2011 12:32 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 20, 2011 10:27 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Egypt's ambassador to the Palestinian Authority said Saturday that Cairo was exerting efforts to calm tensions between Israel and factions in Gaza following a sharp escalation in violence.

Yasser Othman said both sides have reached an initial agreement to restore a ceasefire between Israel and factions in the Gaza Strip. Egypt is mediating to stop "Israel's aggression on Gaza," he said.

Hamas' armed wing called off the two-year lull late Friday after a series of deadly Israeli airstrikes. Still, the Al-Qassam Brigades is not believed to have taken part in the latest hostilities.

As for Egypt's own breakdown with Israel over the deaths of security forces in the Sinai, Othman said, "What is needed from Israel is a formal apology and a commitment to never do this again."

Israel is not interested in escalating tensions with Egypt, he added.

But Othman told Ma'an that Israel must apologize for the deaths of five Egyptian policemen killed in the Sinai if it hoped to restore normal relations with its oldest ally in the region.

Asked how recalling Egypt's ambassador from Tel Aviv would help the dispute, Othman said the move "sends a strong message to Israel that Egypt stands by its civilians and soldiers."

Israel knows well Egypt's critical role in maintaining security in the Sinai area, he said, and it shares responsibility for the attack Thursday in Eilat because both sides are responsible for protecting the border.

He pointed out that investigations into the Eilat attack were ongoing.

State television said Saturday that Egypt decided to withdraw its ambassador from Israel to protest the deaths on the border during retaliatory attacks on Palestinian militants.

"Egypt has decided to withdraw its ambassador to Israel until there is an official apology," it said.

The Egyptian government had asked "for an official apology from Israel" at the end of a crisis meeting overnight, the state-run MENA news agency reported in a statement.

Information Minister Osama Heykal said the policemen were killed "inside Egyptian territory as a result of an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and armed elements inside Israeli territory."

It is the second time that Egypt, the first Arab country to have signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, recalls its ambassador from Tel Aviv.

In November 2000 Egypt recalled its envoy from Israel to protest over what it said was "the excessive use of force by Israel against the Palestinians after the second intifada," or Palestinian uprising.
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