An Israeli security source told Reuters on Sunday that Israeli advisers are helping Kenya formulate a strategy to end the siege at the Nairobi shopping mall, where the Islamist terrorists are holding hostages.
"There are Israeli advisers helping with the negotiating strategy, but no Israelis involved in any imminent storming operation," said the source, who gave no further details and asked not to be identified.
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The source said only a "handful" of Israelis, "purely in an advisory role", were on scene at the upscale Westgate shopping center, which has several Israeli-owned outlets and is frequented by expatriates and Kenyans.
Earlier, a Kenyan security source told AFP that Israeli forces had joined Kenyan efforts to end a deadly siege by Somali terrorists at a Nairobi shopping mall. "The Israelis have just entered and they are rescuing the hostages and the injured," the source told AFP on condition that he not be named. The AFP report could not be confirmed by any other source.
Kenyan security forces enter mall (Photo: AP)
In Israel, foreign ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson refused to confirm or deny that its forces were involved.
Security forces escort people who had been hiding out of mall (Photo: AP)
"We don't make a habit of commenting on security cooperation of any kind that there may or may not be," he told AFP.
Police check people who had been hiding in bathroom (Photo: Reuters)
There were conflicting reports from other security sources in Nairobi about the role Israel was playing in the situation.
Video courtesy of jn1.tv
One Kenyan security source, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters that the Israeli military was involved in the operation, while a private security official also said they were helping comb the mall.
But the Kenyan Interior Minister insisted it was a national operation, despite offers of foreign support.
Saturday's attack on the Westgate shopping center by the Al-Shabaab group, which opposes Kenya's participation in a peacekeeping mission in neighboring Somalia, killed at least 59 people and wounded 200 others. An unknown number of people were still being held hostage.
Scene outside mall (Photo:Reuters)
A volley of gunfire lasting about 30 seconds interrupted a stalemate of several hours, a Reuters witness said, speaking from close to the shopping center which is frequented by expatriates and Kenyans.
People crouch for cover outside mall (Photo: AP)
Earlier in the day, the Kenyan interior minister said that between 10 and 15 militants were barricaded in the Nairobi mall since Saturday's attack. He said local security forces are doing everything they could to make sure the hostages were safe and would not be affected. He brought the death toll so far to 59. An Israeli source in Nairobi said all Israelis who were in the mall at the time of the attack had made it out safely, with the last three being rescued overnight.
President Shimon Peres Sunday sent condolences to President Uhuru Kenyatta, expressing deep shock and sending sympathies to the families.
At least 10 terrorists are reported to still be in the mall, armed with Kalashnikovs and hand grenades. They announced Saturday that they would not negotiate with the government of Kenya. Security forces continue to surround the mall, and it appears that local forces were able to surround the terrorists in a closed area of the exclusive shopping center.
The attackers, apparently operating from Somalia under the auspices of the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist organization al-Shabab, entered the capital-city mall Saturday afternoon, tossing grenades and spraying gunfire at shoppers and staff. They ordered all Muslims out. Others were shot.
Three Israelis were safely rescued, including Yariv Kedar, a representative of the Amiran company, who has been in Kenya for the past seven years. He said yesterday, "We started to hear the cries and screams of frightened people. Terrorists fired bursts in all directions. At that same second, I hid all the documents that could identify me as an Israeli - my passport and work documents, so that God forbid they did not kidnap me and so that the fact that I am Israeli would not hurt me. My work friend did the same as me. and we stayed under the tables until the lcoal security forces reached us."
Israel's deputy ambassador to Kenya Yaki Lopez, who over the weekend was acting as ambassador, estimated that the attack was not directed against Israelis. "The first instinct is to think that way, but I think it is not necessarily the answer. It does not seem to me at this point, by instinct and through what we are getting, that they sought Israeli targets. According to him, the Israeli population in Kenya regularly spends time at the mall, and even after the event has maintained relative calm. "The Israelis are all relaxed, to my understanding. I do not see any degree of panic."
Foreigners, including two diplomats - one from Canada and another from Ghana - were killed in the attack.
Nairobi's exclusive shopping center has four stories and more than 80 shops, including supermarket, jewelery stalls, and some Israeli-owned stores. Visitors to the area can also enjoy the tropical gardens and artificial water falls.
AFP, Reuters contributed to the report
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