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Ambassador: Israeli-Egyptian relations still tense

Aug. 24, 2011 6:46 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 27, 2011 5:19 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Yasser Othman, the Egyptian ambassador to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, said Wednesday that there is still tension in Egyptian-Israeli relations after the killing of five Egyptian soldiers last week.

“We want a clear, strong apology and a pledge to not to repeat such acts in the future,” he said.

It was not enough that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and President Shimon Peres expressed regret for the incident, Egypt's cabinet said.

The Eilat attacks had nothing to do with Egypt, Othman said, and investigations are ongoing on both sides.

Egypt had "forbidden" Israel from launching a large-scale operation in the Gaza Strip, he added.

“The Egyptian side has felt after the Eilat operation that Israel intends to [get] revenge,” so Egypt has sent a strong message to Israel saying it won’t allow an operation to take place.

Israel did not launch a large-scale operation because they fear the Egyptian people’s reaction, Othman added.

His remarks echoed reports in the Israeli media that Egyptian officials had conveyed messages to Israel that a large-scale military operation could lead Cairo to the point of suspending relations.

In talks held this week between a senior Egyptian official and a very high-placed official in Jerusalem, the latter told him: “We stopped the escalation in Gaza because of you,” according to the report in Maariv.

This was preceded by talks held between Defense Minister Ehud Barak with Gen. Hussein Tantawi and intelligence chief Murad Muwafi, who conveyed messages in a similar vein, the report said.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian-brokered halt to recent violence appeared to be holding despite sporadic rocket fire from Gaza and an airstrike that killed a member of Islamic Jihad's military wing late Tuesday.

The truce was announced Sunday evening following four days of violence sparked by a series of shooting ambushes near Eilat in southern Israel on Thursday in which eight Israelis died.

Israel launched a series of airstrikes in the aftermath of Thursday's attack, killing 15 Palestinians and injuring more than 50. Among those killed was Popular Resistance Committees chief Kamal Al-Nayrab.

Also Wednesday, Israel's army chief Benny Gantz ordered increased measures along the border with Egypt due to intelligence about new attacks being planned, according to a report in Israel's Haaretz newspaper. Armed groups are planning attacks similar to the ones last Thursday, the report said.

The new defensive measures include putting in place additional means of electronic and visual intelligence gathering as well bolstering navy capabilities in the south, according to the report.
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