Three Israeli soldiers were killed on Saturday by an Egyptian policeman who crossed the border into Israeli territory and opened fire, according to the Israeli military. The policeman was also killed in a shootout with Israeli forces.
The incident, which took place near the Nitzana border crossing between Israel and Egypt, was one of the deadliest along the usually quiet frontier in years. The motive and circumstances of the attack remained unclear, but both countries said they were conducting a joint investigation.
The Israeli military said the sequence of events began around 2:30 a.m. on Saturday when Israeli soldiers thwarted a major cross-border drug smuggling attempt and seized a haul worth about $400,000. Then, around 8 a.m., a commander found the bodies of a male soldier and a female soldier at a border post. They were thought to have been killed an hour or two earlier.
More soldiers arrived to conduct searches in the area, and around noon they tracked down a suspect in Israeli territory. In a subsequent exchange of fire, a third Israeli soldier was killed, as was the suspect, who was dressed in the fatigues worn by Egyptian border guards.
The Egyptian army said in a statement that the policeman was chasing drug smugglers when he breached the security fence and engaged in an exchange of fire that led to the death of three Israeli soldiers and the injury of two others as well as his own death.
The incident raised questions about the security cooperation between Israel and Egypt, which have been allies since signing a peace treaty in 1979. The two countries have been working closely on various regional issues, such as counter-terrorism, energy, trade and mediation with the Palestinians.
However, they have also kept their collaboration low-profile, partly because of public sentiment in Egypt that is wary of deepening ties with Israel until a just and durable peace with the Palestinians is achieved.