One Israeli civilian was killed Monday morning along the Egyptian border in an ambush combining rifle fire, antitank weapons and two explosive devices. Two terrorists who crossed into Israel were killed in an ensuing gunfight.
The coordinated ambush was reminiscent of earlier attacks along the Israel-Egypt border, including the August 18, 2011, attack on Route 12 that claimed eight Israeli lives.
Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich of the IDF Spokesperson’s Office said that the nature of the deployment and the quality of the explosives and other gear were similar to those used in the previous attacks in the region.
The identity of the perpetrators, she said, could not be discussed at this time. The IDF is investigating links to Gaza-based terror organizations.
Hours after the attack Israel moved two tanks to the border, a rarely seen move since the two countries signed a peace treaty over 30 years ago.
Moving the tanks onto the border is not allowed under the peace treaty, Haaretz reported.
Col. Tel Hermon, a regional brigade commander, briefed reporters in the region, saying that “a far worse terror attack had been avoided,” according to Ynet.
At close to 6:30 in the morning a three-man rifle squad crossed into Israel and established an ambush on Route 10, some 18 miles south of the Egypt-Gaza-Israel border. The terrorists detonated a roadside explosive device and opened fire on two Israeli cars with Kalashnikov rifles and anti-tank weapons.
Additional terror squads remained deployed in Egyptian territory and did not fire into Israel, according to Lt. Col. Leibovich, who said that IDF forces did not fire into Egyptian territory either.
Said Fashapshe, a resident of Haifa who has been employed by the Defense Ministry for years and has been working on the border fence for the past 18 months, was killed. He was 36 years old and a father of four. In his final moments he managed to speak with a cousin over the phone in Haifa.
Soldiers from the Golani Brigade arrived on the scene within minutes and engaged the terrorists, killing two of them and setting off in pursuit of another, whose tracks led to the Nahal Lavan region, near Nitzana — largely flat, sandy terrain.
One of the dead terrorists was carrying what the IDF termed “a very large” explosive device.
Residents of Kadesh Barnea, situated a mere 300 meters from the Egyptian border, and other towns in the region were placed on high alert and instructed to remain in their homes. Shortly after noon Monday the IDF rescinded the alert, saying that the third terrorist had managed to escape and cross back into Egypt.
Routes 10 and 12 were re-opened to traffic.
The targeted civilians were part of a 1,000-person team currently working around the clock to complete the 240-kilometer border fence from Netafim to Taba. Some 180 kilometers of the fence have been erected, with the northern sector near Nitzana expected to be finished by the end of August, Deputy Director General of the Defense Ministry Betzalel Treiber told Army Radio this morning.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said construction of the fence would not be halted by the attack.
“This will not stop us. The construction of the fence is a supreme national interest. Had it not been built we would be facing a flood of terrorist attacks.”
IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai told Israel Radio there was no conclusive proof the attack was related to the launching of rockets from Sinai over the weekend, but said the army had yet to rule out that option.
Previous attacks in the region have been perpetrated by squads of Sinai-based Bedouin, with directives allegedly coming in from terror groups in Gaza. Since the fall of the central government in Egypt last year the rule of law in the Sinai Peninsula has largely collapsed as the influence of Islamist groups has grown.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak commented on the deteriorating security situation in the mountainous, tribal terrain of the Sinai Peninsula. “Just yesterday, two rockets were fired at Israel into the southern part of the Negev. We see here a disturbing deterioration in Egyptian control in the Sinai. We are waiting for the results of the election. Whoever wins, we expect them to take responsibility for all of Egypt’s international commitments, including the peace treaty with Israel and the security arrangements in the Sinai; swiftly putting an end to these attacks,” he said in a statement.
Vice Prime Minister and former IDF Chief of the General Staff Shaul Mofaz suggested in an interview with Army Radio that senior military officers from both countries meet and discuss mutual security needs, including the possibility of moving more Egyptian troops into the Sinai– a fraught decision that would erode the large desert’s standing as a mostly demilitarized zone.
The peace treaty between Israel and Egypt stipulates that changes in military deployments within the Sinai Peninsula are acceptable so long as they are agreed upon by both sides.
In recent months, in hopes that they will be able to turn back the tide of lawlessness, Israel has agreed to the insertion of seven Egyptian battalions into the 23,000-square-mile peninsula.