IDF: Fire on Egypt border was ‘violent drug-smuggling attempt’

Two soldiers injured in cross-border shootout; rifles, illegal substances found at site

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Mount Harif and the road running along the border between Israel and Egypt. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Mount Harif and the road running along the border between Israel and Egypt. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

A shootout on the border with Egypt that left two Israelis soldiers wounded Wednesday was a confontation with drug smugglers, the IDF said Wednesday evening, correcting earlier reports that it had been an attack by Islamist militants.

A preliminary investigation into the cross-border incident, conducted in coordination with the Egyptian army, showed that the suspects opened fire at Israeli troops who had identified the suspicious figures approaching the border.

The army said in a statement it was a “violent drug-smuggling attempt,” foiled by the army unit commander.

Reports earlier in the day had characterized the incident as an unprovoked attack on soldiers from Egypt.

One report from Egypt, citing unnamed security officials, blamed Sinai terror group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, while a second report also, citing unnamed Egyptian sources, said the fire had come from Egyptian troops who mistook the Israeli soldiers for smugglers.

The gunmen shot from three locations, including from a car, injuring two IDF soldiers, the army said.

Earlier reports indicated small arms fire and a rocket propelled grenade were directed at the Israeli solders.

The Israeli soldiers returned fire, and at least three of the smugglers were killed, the IDF said.

Kalashnikov rifles and bags of drugs were found at the scene after the shooting, according to the Ynet news website.

The soldiers, including female company commander Or Ben Yehuda, were taken to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba for treatment. The army said their injuries were light to moderate.

The incident occurred near Mount Harif in the central Negev Desert, about 112 kilometers from Eilat.

The Mount Harif region is one of the most remote in Israel, and the deep canyons there have long served as smuggling routes for drugs and people into Israel.

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In a separate incident several kilometers from the attack, five soldiers were injured Wednesday when their vehicle rolled over.

Spencer Ho and Mitch Ginsburg contributed to this report.

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