CAIRO/ EL-ARISH, Egypt: Egyptian security officials and witnesses said a man was killed in an explosion near the border with Israel Sunday, with some accounts saying he was trying to fire a rocket into Israel.
Witnesses said he was killed in an explosion as he tried to fire a rocket, and as an Israeli military drone hovered in the sky above its side of the border.
The man, Ibrahim Ouda Bereikat, had been detained briefly last week as part of a military crackdown in the Sinai Peninsula against Islamist militants, Bedouin sources said.
Security officials confirmed that a man was killed in an explosion near the border with Israel, but could not give a clear account of the circumstances.
They said he might have been killed by a landmine, or accidentally in “militant training exercises.”
Authorities and security officials have been very reluctant to admit that militants used Egyptian territory to fire rockets into Israel. The Egyptian military launched an unprecedented campaign in the lawless peninsula after Islamist militants killed 16 soldiers in an attack on a border outpost on Aug.5.
The military buildup, which included tanks and helicopter gunships, is the largest since Israel withdrew from Sinai in a 1979 peace treaty that restricted the Egyptian military presence in the desert and mountain peninsula.
On Saturday Egypt’s new defense minister made the first direct contact with his Israeli counterpart since taking office, to defend the increased military presence in Sinai, saying it is needed to fight terrorism and is temporary, Egyptian officials.
Israel had said Egypt moved tanks into Sinai without its consent, something that is required under the 1979 treaty. The officials – one from Egyptian intelligence and the second from the military – said Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi called Ehud Barak Thursday.
The Israeli defense ministry refused comment. An Israeli defense official said no conversation took place between Sissi and Barak. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the mater.
Egyptian officials said Sissi reaffirmed Cairo’s commitment to the peace accord in his conversation with Barak. The officials spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of relations between Egypt and Israel at this time.
In Egypt, the president’s spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.
Israel-Egypt relations have grown increasingly complicated since the June election of President Mohammad Mursi, an Islamist and member of the Muslim Brotherhood who is Egypt’s first freely elected civilian leader.
Mursi’s sudden move earlier this month to replace longtime leaders of the Egyptian military familiar to Israel following the Sinai attack has added to the tensions.
Separately Sunday, a Cairo court sentenced a man to five years in jail and another 75 people to one-year suspended sentences in connection to attacks on the Israeli and Saudi embassies in September last year, a court official said. Protesters stormed the Israeli embassy following the killing of five Egyptian security guards by Israeli soldiers pursuing militants who had ambushed and killed eight Israelis along the border.
The man sentenced to five years, named Omar Afifi, had fled abroad and was tried in absentia.
Also Sunday, an Egyptian security official said Egypt reopened its passenger terminal with the Gaza Strip and resumed normal operations there after nearly three weeks of disruption following the attack on Egyptian soldiers.