An attack Thursday on a Cairo hotel and tour bus that had been awaiting its Israeli passengers was more intense than the Egyptian authorities claimed, one of the tourists who witnessed the assault said.
Egyptian officials said a gang of youths hurled fireworks and fired birdshot at the tour bus outside a hotel near Cairo’s pyramids. The Egyptian Interior Ministry said no one was hurt in the incident. But the Israeli Arab tourists said there had been heavy and lengthy gunfire.
According to a ministry statement, the attack targeted police guarding the hotel, who returned fire. The hotel’s facade and the bus parked in front of the building, which had been scheduled to ferry tourists from from the northern Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm and the central city of Jaffa, were damaged in the incident.
“The first thing they fired was flares, and then they started firing at the bus. Later they started firing birdshot at the hotel and tried to throw Molotov cocktails at the bus,” said Jaber Jabarin, one of the Israelis staying at the hotel, who witnessed the attack.
After throwing Molotov cocktails, Jabarin said the attackers “started firing at the hotel with live bullets.” He described heavy, continuous gunfire.
In Jerusalem, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alon Lavi confirmed the bus that was hit was in use by a group of visiting Arab Israelis, but said no one was inside the bus at the time of the incident, and that no Israelis were hurt. He said Israel had been briefed on the incident by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry.
One of the group, Bassam Muhammid, told Israel’s Channel 2 news they were a group of 32 from Umm al-Fahm, and eight from Jaffa.
Egyptian media identified the tourists as “1948 Arabs” — a euphemism for Arabs who hold Israeli citizenship.
A suspect was arrested and police were still searching for the rest of the group, the Interior Ministry statement said. The shooter was part of a group of about 15 people.
Hotel employee Yasser Fakhreddin said “15 to 20 young persons wearing masks threw fireworks and fired birdshot at the glass facade of the hotel as well as the windows of an empty bus waiting to pick up the Arab Israeli tourists.”
A security official who declined to be named said the group of Israelis were still inside the hotel when the attack took place.
The motive for the attack was unclear and no one immediately claimed responsibility.
The attack came as Egyptian’s Coptic Orthodox Christians were celebrating the Orthodox Christmas in predominantly Muslim Egypt. Most Orthodox Christians follow the older, Julian calendar and celebrate Christmas on January 7. In Egypt, thousands of policemen were deployed across Cairo and other cities to protect churches and Christian celebrations.
The Egyptian government has for years been battling an insurgency by Islamic militants in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula. Attacks on security forces there have significantly escalated after the military overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. There have also been attacks in the mainland.
Thursday’s incident and its proximity to the Giza Pyramids — Egypt’s top tourist attraction — could further impact the tourism sector, already decimated in the aftermath of the Russian plane crash.