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Israel seeks calm with Egypt after embassy storming

Sept. 11, 2011 11:24 A.M. (Updated: Sept. 11, 2011 6:49 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israeli officials called on Sunday for relations with Egypt to return to normal despite Friday's attack by a mob on Israel's embassy in Cairo.

"We shall do everything in order that relations between the two countries will return to normal," Environment Minister Gilad Erdan, considered close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told public radio.

"In this case the Egyptian authorities acted as they should," he said, referring to the rescue by Egyptian commandos of six Israeli security guards besieged in the embassy building for several hours Friday night by angry protesters.

The attack on the mission, in which crowds smashed through an external security wall, tossed embassy papers from balconies and tore down the Israeli flag, was the worst since Israel set up its mission in Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Tel Aviv, in 1979.

It was the latest episode in worsening relations between Egypt and Israel since the killing of five Egyptian policemen last month on their common border as Israel hunted militants after a deadly attack.

Ambassador Yitzhak Levanon was among 80 embassy staff and their families flown home early Saturday morning. The six guards followed later.

The deputy head of the Israeli mission remained in Egypt to maintain diplomatic contacts with the authorities.

An Israeli government spokesman said on Saturday that Levanon would return to his post "as as soon as the security of the embassy is provided by Egypt."

"It is in the interests of both the Israeli and Egyptian sides to restore relations between the two countries to normal, even if that is not simple," home front defense minister Matan Vilnai told Israeli army radio on Sunday.

"The Egyptian commandos resolved the problem, perhaps in a somewhat belated fashion, but what they did prevented a bloodbath," he said.

Netanyahu himself on Saturday restated his desire to maintain the peace treaty with Egypt, one of only two Arab countries with Jordan to have signed a peace treaty with Israel.

"We are committed to preserving peace with Egypt, which is in the interest of Egypt and Israel," he said in a broadcast address.

Since president Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February after a popular revolt, Egyptian activists have called for a revision of the peace treaty with Israel.

The Israeli cabinet was holding its weekly meeting on Sunday, where Netanyahu and his foreign and defense ministers were expected to brief colleagues on the weekend's events.

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