Israel on Saturday said it “strongly” condemned an attack in which 16 Egyptian policemen were killed outside Cairo, urging countries to unite to fight terror.
“Israel strongly condemns the severe terrorist attack in the al-Wahat al-Bahriya area in Egypt, sends condolences on behalf of the people of Israel to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and the people of Egypt, and sends wishes for a quick recovery to the injured,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
“There is no difference between the terrorism that strikes in Egypt and the terrorism that strikes in other countries,” the statement added. “Terrorism will be defeated quicker if all countries are united in taking action against it.”
Sixteen Egyptian policemen were killed in a shootout with militants on the road between Cairo and the Bahariya oasis in the Western Desert, the interior ministry in Cairo said Saturday, in a rare flare-up outside the Sinai Peninsula.
Funerals were held in several provinces for those killed, whose coffins were wrapped in Egyptian flags.
The official toll from the interior ministry was lower than a figure given earlier by security and medical sources of at least 35 Egyptian police officers killed in the clashes which began on Friday night.
The ministry said it had sent police to the area, less than 125 miles southwest of Cairo, after learning that militants were there “hiding, training, and preparing to carry out terrorist operations.”
As the forces approached, the militants opened fire with heavy weapons, triggering a shootout that lasted for several hours and also left 13 police officers injured and one missing, the ministry said.
There has not yet been a claim of responsibility. A fake claim in the name of the small extremist group Hasam, reported by multiple local media, had spread on social media soon after the shootout.
Authorities are fighting the Egyptian branch of the Islamic State group, which has increased its attacks killing hundred of soldiers and police in the north of the Sinai peninsula, more than 300 miles away from the latest violence.
On Saturday armored vehicles were seen parked on the road close to where the incident took place along with about 15 ambulances.
The ministry said that 15 militants were killed as security forces chased them into the desert after the clashes, adding that the search for suspects was continuing.
The public prosecutor has ordered the state security prosecution to start an investigation into the incident, an official said.
According to a source close to the security services, the police convoy was hit by rocket fire. The attackers also used explosive devices.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi was scheduled Saturday to attend events in the northern town of El Alamein on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast to mark the 75th anniversary of the pivotal Allied World War II victory in the Battle of El Alamein.
But an AFP reporter did not see the strongman leader at an open-air ceremony involving foreign dignitaries, and his office said he had canceled his participation in a number of other engagements.
Sissi’s office, though, said he visited El Alamein Military Museum with some of the dignitaries, and gave a speech commemorating the battle and stressing the Middle East “is facing unprecedented crises.”