Arab news outlets reported Sunday that 15 Egyptian policemen were killed in an armed attack on a police station in north Sinai Peninsula at a security checkpoint in Rafah.
The gunmen reportedly took control of two Egyptian armored vehicles using RPG missiles and explosives. One of the vehicles blew up near the Kerem Shalom border crossing, while the other one managed to infiltrate into Israel. The gunmen fired tank shells toward Israeli forces stationed at the border, but IAF aircraft managed to hit the armored vehicle.
The IDF Spokesperson's Unit stated that there were no casualties among IDF forces or Israeli civilians.
- Heightened tension in south
- IAF strikes southern Strip; terrorist killed
- Gaza: Hamas operative killed in blast
The IDF reported that around 8pm, the terrorist cell managed to take over an Egyptian base in north Sinai and killed at least 10 Egyptian soldiers. At 8:15pm, one of the armored vehicles hijacked by gunmen blew up at Kerem Shalom border crossing and the second one managed to cross into Israel, but was bombarded by the IAF shortly afterwards.
Several of the terrorists tried to escape from armored vehicle, but were hit by IAF fire. The bodies of four terrorists were found on the Israeli side and three others were found on the Egyptian side.
Security forces at Kerem Shalom crossing (Photo: Roi Idan)
Heavy IDF forces were called up to the sector and started scouring the area. "We are maintaing contact with the Egyptians and continuing to cooperate with them," said IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai.
Mordechai noted that the attack was unrelated to the IAF strike in Gaza earlier on Sunday, which killed a global jihadist movement terrorist who was planning attacks against Israel.
Reacting to the incident, senior security officials said that the terrorists who tried to infiltrate Israel were planning a major terror attack. "Should they have succeeded, it could have been a very serious terror attack. A major disaster has been prevented."
Hijacked armored vehicle on fire (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the attack shows the need for "determined Egyptian action" to impose security and "prevent terror in Sinai. Barak congratulated the security forces for thwarting a terror attack at the Kerem Shalom border crossing.
Barak said "The IDF forces under Brigadier General Tal Russo and the direction of the Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz showed alertness, vigilance and decisiveness and thwarted an attack that could have led to a mass casualty event."
Following the incident, Gantz held a situation assessment with senior IDF officers.
Morsi calls meeting
Meanwhile, Egyptian media outlets reported that security forces raised the alert level at the border and issued a curfew in the northern Sinai district. Egyptian state TV reported that Egyptian security sources announced the Rafah border crossing with Gaza would be closed "indefinitely" after the Sinai attack.
Also, Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi called for an urgent meeting with the military council, an official from Morsi's party said on Facebook.
Egypt's new Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou condemned the attack, telling al Youm al Masri newspaper that the incident took place at a time when Egypt is trying to restore tourism in the area.
The Hamas leadership in Gaza issued a statement denouncing the attack on Egyptian troops, saying: "Hamas condemns this ugly crime that killed a number of Egyptian soldiers and extends its deep condolences to the families of the victims and to the leadership and the people of Egypt."
Some Egyptian sources blamed Israel for the attack. Spokesperson of Al Jamia Al Islamiya said that the Israeli intelligence is behind the incident: "Israeli sources are staging violent attacks in Sinai in order to modify the security arrangements and Israeli presence at the Egyptian border."
Earlier, al-Arabiya network reported that the gunmen, who are affiliated with the global jihadist movement which has become increasingly active in Sinai, drove a four-wheel-drive vehicle when they attacked the troops.
“It seems the attack was sudden and well-coordinated, using heavy arms, ” an al-Arabiya reporter said.
The website of Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram reported that the soldiers were killed after a terrorist cell blew up a car bomb inside an Egyptian base near Rafah.
The attack occurred during the Iftar evening meal, when Muslims break their Ramadan fast.
Attila Somfalvi, Elior Levy, Roi Kais Ilana Curiel and Neri Brener contributed to this report
- Receive Ynetnews updates
directly to your desktop