A man who shot and killed three Israeli soldiers in a rare incident on the Sinai border with Egypt has been identified by the Israeli military as a member of the Egyptian border police.
Two Israel Defence Forces (IDF) combat soldiers were killed early on Saturday morning at a military post near Mount Harif, in the Negev desert, the army said. The discovery of their bodies a few hours later triggered a manhunt in which a third soldier was killed, as well as the assailant. A fourth Israeli soldier sustained minor injuries in the shootout.
An IDF statement on Sunday identified the attacker as an Egyptian police officer, who was killed by Israeli troops after being found “in Israeli territory”. It said an investigation “in full cooperation with the Egyptian army” was under way.
Israeli media reported that the unnamed assailant entered Israeli territory through an emergency crossing in the border fence designed to allow the IDF to access the restive Sinai peninsula, where smuggling rings running guns and drugs and terrorist groups such as Islamic State are active.
Israel has rejected Egypt’s claim that a member of the country’s security forces had been chasing drug smugglers crossing the security fence, and that “an exchange of fire” took place.
The IDF said it seized drugs and contraband goods worth 1.5m shekels (£320,000) on the border at about 2am local time on Saturday, but no link had been established between that operation and the later attack.
Funerals for Sgt Lia Ben Nun, 19, Staff Sgt Ori Yitzhak Iluz, 19, and Staff Sgt Ohad Dahan, 20, took place on Sunday afternoon.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called the killings a terrorist attack. “Israel relayed a clear message to the Egyptian government. We expect that the joint investigation will be exhaustive and thorough,” he said in televised remarks.
“We will refresh procedures and methods of operations and also the measures to reduce to a minimum the smuggling and to ensure tragic terrorist attacks like this do not happen again.”
Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, discussed the incident with his Egyptian counterpart, Mohammed Zaki, both ministries said.
Egypt was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel after the Camp David accords of 1978. While the two countries cooperate closely on security issues, particularly in regards to the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian public is largely opposed to normalisation.
Israel built a security fence along the 140-mile Sinai border in 2013 to stem a surge in attacks from militant groups operating in the peninsula’s vast desert, as well as the flow of migrants and refugees from places such as Sudan.