Israel’s ambassador, staff flee Egypt as protesters storm embassy in Cairo
CAIRO - Protesters broke into the Israeli Embassy in Cairo yesterday and dumped documents from the windows as hundreds more demonstrated outside, prompting the ambassador and his family to leave the country. The unrest was a further worsening of already deteriorating ties between Israel and post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt.
Egyptian police made no attempt to intervene during the day as crowds of hundreds tore down an embassy security wall with sledgehammers and their bare hands, or after nightfall when about 30 protesters stormed into the Nile-side high-rise building where the embassy is located.
Just before midnight, the group of protesters began dumping Hebrew-language documents from the windows, said an Egyptian security official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In Jerusalem, an Israeli official confirmed the embassy had been broken into, saying it appeared the group reached a waiting room on the lower floor. Israel’s ambassador, Yitzhak Levanon, his family, and other embassy staff rushed to Cairo airport, taking a military plane to Israel, said airport officials.
Since the February fall of Mubarak - who worked closely with Israelis - ties have steadily worsened between the countries. Anger increased last month after Israeli forces responding to a cross-border militant attack mistakenly killed five Egyptian police officers near the border. Calls have grown in Egypt for ending the historic 1979 peace treaty with Israel, a pact that never has had the support of ordinary Egyptians.
Several large protests have taken place outside the embassy in recent months without serious incident.
Egyptians also held demonstrations yesterday against the country’s military rulers, with thousands gathering in Cairo and other cities. Alongside those gatherings, a crowd formed outside the embassy building.
It quickly escalated with crowds tearing away large sections of a cement and metal barrier, which was built by Egyptian authorities to better protect the site from protests.
For the second time in less than a month, protesters were able to get to the top of the building and pull down the Israeli flag. They replaced it with the Egyptian flag.