Israel asks to clear Cairo embassy contents: Egypt sources

CAIRO Tue Mar 20, 2012 9:32pm EDT

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Israel has asked Egypt for permission to send planes to remove the contents of its Cairo embassy, Egyptian foreign ministry and airport sources said on Tuesday, highlighting deteriorating ties between the two states since Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year.

It was not immediately clear what prompted the request but a parliamentary committee issued a statement last week in the wake of Israeli raids on Gaza demanding the Israeli envoy be expelled from Cairo and for a review of ties with the Jewish state.

It was not clear whether or not the move would also involve evacuating staff. Israeli diplomats in Cairo could not be reached and Israel's Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment.

The Israel's ambassador was evacuated from Cairo in September last year after demonstrators stormed the embassy in protest at a deadly border shooting incident in August.

The ambassador, Yitzhak Levanon, briefly returned in November for farewell assignments at the end of his tour. A new Israeli ambassador, Yaacov Amitai, took office in February.

"The Israeli embassy contacted us (on Tuesday) requesting permission for two planes to land in Cairo to transport the contents of the embassy," a ministry official told Reuters.

The official said approval was needed from the military, which has ruled Egypt since Mubarak was ousted in February last year. He said a decision on the request was expected on Wednesday.

An airport source also said a request to send two planes had been submitted, and that the airport had already received approval for the planes to land.

Many in Israel have worried that ties with Egypt, which in 1979 became the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state, could be jeopardized after Mubarak's overthrow in a popular uprising last year and the rise of Islamists.

Anti-Israeli sentiment in Egypt was muted before Mubarak, a U.S. ally, was toppled but have since become more vocal. The Muslim Brotherhood's political party and others have said they are committed to Egypt's international treaties and agreements.

The storming of the embassy in Cairo in September followed the killing in August of five Egyptian security guards by Israeli soldiers pursuing militants who had ambushed and killed eight Israelis along the Israeli-Egyptian border.

Egypt brokered a truce between Israel and militant groups in Gaza this month after four days of violence in which 25 Palestinians were killed and 200 rockets were fired at Israel.

(Reporting by Tamim Elyan in Cairo and Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem; Editing by Edmund Blair and Louise Ireland)

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