Israeli soldiers and rescue forces seen at Mount Harif military base in the southern Negev desert, close to the border with Egypt, June 3, 2023. (Flash90)

3 Israeli soldiers killed by Egyptian officer who is also shot dead

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3 Israeli soldiers killed by Egyptian officer who is also shot dead

Israeli soldiers and rescue forces seen at Mount Harif military base in the southern Negev desert, close to the border with Egypt, June 3, 2023. (Flash90)

(JTA) — An Egyptian security officer opened fire on Israeli soldiers on a routine patrol, killing two, and hours later killed a third before being felled in a shootout, the Israeli army said, in what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called a “severe and extraordinary incident.”

The Egyptian military said the shootout occurred while the officer was pursuing drug smugglers across the border.

Cross-border attacks are rare between Egypt and Israel, which have been at peace for more than 40 years and have diplomatic relations. The countries have agreed to jointly investigate the incident.

The Israeli army said the officer opened fire early on Saturday, killing two soldiers who were patrolling the border. Reports said the shooting took place at Nitzana, a crossing about 25 miles southeast of the Gaza Strip.

Hours later, around noon, the army said, Israeli soldiers identified the Egyptian officer and killed him in an exchange of fire in which a third Israeli soldier was killed and another was lightly wounded. The army later named the Israeli fatalities as Staff Sgt. Ori Izhak Iluz, Sgt. Lia Ben Nun and Staff Sgt. Ohad Dahan.

The Associated Press quoted the IDF spokesman, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, as saying that the shooting exchange may have been related to a drug smuggling attempt thwarted the previous night by the Israeli army.

Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister, said he consulted with his Egyptian counterpart, Mohamed Zaki, and agreed to a joint investigation. “Minister Gallant expressed his appreciation to Minister Zaki for his commitment and cooperation in the investigation of the incident,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. “He emphasized the importance of cooperating further in order to prevent such events in the future.”

Opening the Israeli Cabinet meeting on Sunday morning, Netanyahu said the government would examine security procedures along the fence built along the Israel-Egyptian border, which was constructed to thwart the migration of African asylum seekers.

“The incident on the Egyptian border is severe and extraordinary and will be fully investigated,” he said. “Israel has conveyed a clear message to the Egyptian government: We expect that the joint investigation will be exhaustive and thorough.”

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