JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday he hoped a deadly cross-border assault in the Sinai would serve as a “wake-up call” to Egypt, long accused by Israel of losing its grip in the desert peninsula.
Barak said between 13 and 15 Egyptian soldiers had been killed by militants from an unknown global jihadist group late on Sunday. Israeli forces subsequently killed eight of the gunmen after they tried to breach the border area, he added.
Addressing a parliamentary committee, Barak praised the work of Israeli forces in thwarting the attack.
“Perhaps it will also be a proper wake-up call to the Egyptians to take matters in hand on their side (of the border), in a firmer way,” he said.
Israel has repeatedly complained about poor security in the Sinai following the overthrow of Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, last year.
A demilitarized Sinai is the keystone of the historic 1979 peace deal between the two countries.
But for the past year there has been growing lawlessness in the vast desert expanse, as Bedouin bandits, jihadists and Palestinian militants from next-door Gaza fill the vacuum, tearing at already frayed relations between Egypt and Israel.
Egypt closed its border crossing into the Gaza Strip overnight following the assault, with one Egyptian official saying “Jihadist elements” had infiltrated from the Palestinian coastal enclave, which is run by Hamas Islamists.
Hamas condemned the attack on the Egyptian soldiers. Barak said one of the two vehicles commandeered by the gunmen in Egypt had managed to breach a border fence with Israel before it was bombed by an Israeli fighter aircraft.
He said two people had fled from the vehicle and were shot dead by Israeli troops. A further six bodies were recovered inside the second armored vehicle which had exploded as it approached the border.
“A total of eight bodies,” were found, he said.
In his brief remarks, Barak avoided making any assessments about Israel’s ties with Egypt, the first of two Arab countries to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state, in 1979.
“Since the onset of the event we have been in touch with the Egyptians in an attempt to try and understand,” he said.
Created by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; editing by Crispian Balmer