egypt-israel (wrapup 1, pix, tv)-0821-08
* Efforts to defuse crisis after Egyptians killed
* Egyptian who removed Israel embassy flag seen as local
* Egypt recalled Israel envoy, but whereabouts unclear
* Israel says regrets deaths, calls for joint investigation
By Yasmine Saleh
CAIRO, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Egypt and Israel sought on Sunday
to defuse a diplomatic crisis over the killing of five Egyptian
security personnel during an Israeli operation against
cross-border raiders, but crowds of Egyptians protested at the
Israeli embassy in Cairo overnight.
One demonstrator scaled several floors of the high-rise
embassy building to tear down the Israeli flag and replace it
with an Egyptian one, a Reuters witness reported.
He was feted as a hero by one would-be Egyptian leader.
"Hamdi Sabahi, the Egyptian presidential candidate, sends a
salute of pride to Ahmad al-Shahat, the public hero who burned
the Zionist flag that spoiled the Egyptian air for 30 years,"
Sabahi said in statement.
However, there were signs that Egypt and Israel were both
trying to ease the gravest crisis in their relations since
longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak's overthrow in February.
The spat has highlighted the dilemma faced by the generals
now ruling Egypt, caught between pressure to preserve the 1979
peace treaty with Israel and popular hostility to the Jewish
state, perceived as trampling on national dignity.
Egypt said on Saturday it would recall its ambassador from
Israel after the killings that it said breached the peace
treaty. The Foreign Ministry summoned the Israeli charge
d'affaires to protest and demand a joint investigation.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Israel regretted
the deaths and he told the army to conduct the investigation
with Egypt, which responded with cautious approval.
A delegation led by an unidentified high-ranking Israeli
envoy arrived in Cairo on a private plane from Tel Aviv on
Sunday to a low-key reception, airport sources said. Four cars
drove onto the tarmac to whisk the delegation away.
Officials from Egypt's defence ministry and the ruling army
council were due to meet on Sunday morning, according to a
cabinet official who asked not to be named.
EGYPTIAN AMBASSADOR RECALLED?
It was unclear if Egypt's ambassador in Israel had actually
returned home and a strongly-worded initial statement announcing
his withdrawal was removed from a government website, prompting
speculation that Cairo might have retracted its decision.
A spokesman said the cabinet stood by statements made by its
information minister, but declined to comment on the recall of
the ambassador, which was also reported by state media.
Mubarak's removal in a popular revolt has emboldened many
Egyptians to voice their demands on the streets and allowed
anti-Israel Islamists to play a greater role in formal politics.
The army is trying to keep a lid on social tensions as Egypt
prepares for elections later in the year as part of a promised
transition to democratic, civilian rule.
Egypt's condemnation of Israel in a statement after a second
cabinet crisis meeting on Saturday was unusually blunt.
"Egyptian blood is not cheap and the government will not
accept that Egyptian blood gets shed for nothing," state news
agency MENA quoted a cabinet statement as saying.
The Israeli decision to work with Egypt to investigate the
killings is "positive in appearance but does not fit with the
weight of the incident and the state of Egyptians' outrage from
the Israeli actions', MENA added.
"And just as Egypt confirms it is keen on peace with Israel,
Tel Aviv will also have to share its responsibilities in
protecting that peace," MENA said.
The statement said the government had asked for a deadline
for the joint investigation to conclude its work, adding that
crisis meetings would continue until the results are released.
MORE ROCKET FIRE FROM GAZA
The crisis began when gunmen killed eight people in southern
Israel on Thursday in attacks near Egypt's porous desert border,
prompting Israeli forces to chase the infiltrators, killing
seven of them.
Israel blamed the attack on a Palestinian faction that
entered from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip via Egypt's Sinai desert.
The Israeli military killed the faction's leadership in an
air strike in Gaza on Thursday and launched more than a dozen
more raids on Friday. Medical officials say at least 15
Palestinians have been killed, including five civilians.
Palestinian militants fired at least 50 rockets at Israel
from the Gaza Strip on Saturday. An Israeli man was killed and
at least seven other people were wounded by rockets.
Militants fired a dozen more rockets from Gaza towards
Israel on Sunday. At least two landed in the Egyptian border
town of Rafah, apparently in error, but did not explode and no
one was hurt, an Egyptian security source said.
The Cairo-based Arab League was due to meet later in the day
to discuss the latest violence, after a Palestinian request.
(Additional reporting by Ali Abdelatti, Amr Dalsh and Omar
Fahmy in Cairo and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Writing by Tom
Pfeiffer; Editing by Alistair Lyon)