Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin offered a verbal apology to Cairo on Thursday for the rough treatment of three Egyptian diplomats at the hands of Israeli police in Jerusalem over the weekend.
The incident occurred on Saturday night, the night before Easter Sunday, or Joyous Saturday according to the Coptic calendar.
A group of Egyptians led by Mostafa Al-Qouni, the second-highest-ranking Egyptian at the embassy in Tel Aviv, was removed by Israeli police from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre while attending holiday Mass. A Coptic bishop who was with Quoni was beaten during the incident and briefly lost consciousness. He was treated at a Jerusalem hospital and later released.
It is unclear why police were trying to evict them from the church during Mass.
Elkin said police were investigating the incident, which he called “unnecessary,” but noted that based on his knowledge of the events “it is clear that things could have been handled differently.” The Israeli Foreign Ministry released a statement calling police actions “inappropriate.”
In a previously arranged meeting with the deputy ambassador — he has been the highest-ranking Egyptian official in the country since Cairo recalled Ambassador Atef Mohamed Salem Sayed Al-Ahl in protest over Operation Pillar of Defense in the Gaza Strip in November – the incident came up, and Elkin apologized.
“With incidents of this nature,” Elkin told Israel Radio, “it is always better to lower the flames before they get too high.”
On Wednesday, Israel’s ambassador in Cairo, Yaakov Amitai, was summoned by the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ministry spokesman Amr Roshdy said in a press conference that Amitai was issued a “strongly worded” complaint about the treatment of the Egyptian diplomats.
Egypt also condemned Israel’s reported airstrikes last week in Syria, as well as the detention and questioning of Jerusalem Mufti Mohammed Hussein on Wednesday in connection with disturbances on the Temple Mount.