JERUSALEM/CAIRO, June 3 (Reuters) – Three Israeli soldiers and an Egyptian security officer were killed near the countries’ border on Saturday, Israel and Egypt said, in an incident whose details remained unclear but officials said country they are investigating together.
The Israeli military said an Egyptian policeman shot and killed two of its soldiers as they secured a military post on the Egyptian border on Saturday, after forces successfully thwarted a major smuggling attempt overnight.
It said the Egyptian officer and a third Israeli soldier were killed hours later in a confrontation inside Israeli territory.
Once the two Israeli soldiers were discovered dead, the military treated the incident as a terrorist attack, said Eliezer Toledano, chief of the Israeli military’s Southern Command.
The Egyptian military said three Israelis and one Egyptian security personnel were killed in the exchange of fire as Egyptian security officers chased the smugglers across the border.
Egyptian and Israeli officials are investigating the circumstances of the incident in full cooperation, the Israeli military and two Egyptian security sources said.
“We will not leave any question unresolved,” including the possibility that the shooting was related to overnight smuggling activity, said Toledano.
The Israeli military said it was unclear how the Egyptian officer crossed the border fence and that soldiers were searching the area to eliminate additional assailants.
An Israeli military spokesman said two soldiers were shot while on duty in a relatively desolate area along the desert border with Egypt on Saturday morning. Their bodies were found later, after they failed to answer the radio, the spokesman added.
Once the military understood that the incident was ongoing, the soldiers detected an infiltration into Israeli territory, which led to a firefight in which the assailant, an Egyptian policeman, and the third Israeli soldier, were killed, it said.
Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said he had conducted an assessment with the chief of staff and that the military would “investigate the event if necessary”.
Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel and the more than 200km (124 miles) long border has largely remained calm.
An Israeli military spokesman said that while drug smuggling attempts are frequent in the area, the last known infiltration into Israel that resulted in casualties occurred about 10 years ago.
Reporting by Henriette Chacar and Cairo Newsroom; Additional reporting by Emily Rose; Editing by Angus McDowall and David Holmes
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