June 18, 2012
By AMY TEIBEL
JERUSALEM (AP) - Militants crossed from Egypt's turbulent Sinai Peninsula into southern Israel on Monday and opened fire on civilians building a border security fence, defense officials said. One of the Israeli workers was killed, and two assailants died in a gunbattle with Israeli troops responding to the attack.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack, which underscored the growing lawlessness in the Sinai desert since longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular uprising last year.
Military spokeswoman Lt. Col Avital Leibovich said the assailants have not been identified but acknowledged that defense officials suspected Palestinian militants in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, which also borders the Sinai desert in that same area, might have been involved.
Several hours after the attack, an Israeli airstrike killed two men riding a motorcycle in the northern Gaza Strip near the Israeli border. The Islamic Jihad militant group said the men were members on a "reconnaissance" mission and vowed revenge. Military officials said the incident was not connected to the earlier infiltration from Egypt.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Army Radio that there has been "a worrisome deterioration of Egyptian control" over the Sinai. Barak said he expected the winner of this week's presidential elections in Egypt to honor the country's international obligations - an apparent reference to Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood has said it would respect the historic peace accord but that it would also seek modifications.
Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister and military chief, said he hoped Israel could conduct a security dialogue with the Egyptians and demand more forceful policing in the Sinai.
"No doubt Sinai has become a security problem," Mofaz told Army Radio. "Today's incident ratchets it up a notch."
There was no immediate comment from Egypt on the attack.
Following Mubarak's ouster, Israel stepped up construction of a security fence across the 230-kilometer (150-mile) border with Egypt in a bid to keep out both militants and illegal migrants from Africa. The government has said it expects the fence to be completed by the end of the year.