Israel Doubts Egypt’s Claim in Shooting of Vacationers
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli officials on Sunday questioned Egypt’s assertion that it was a demented policeman who killed seven Israelis on the Sinai coast, saying the gunman may have been a soldier. The presence of soldiers in the zone would violate the 1979 peace treaty.
Egypt said a crazed policeman fired on a group of tourists and on his own unit Saturday at Ras Bourka, 27 miles south of the border checkpoint of Taba. The gunmen reportedly killed his commanding officer before he was captured.
But an Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Sunday: ″We know he was a soldier. We have known for some time they have had soldiers in the area.″ He also said Israel was checking reports that a machine gun was used.
Acting Foreign Minister Moshe Arens said Israel was investigating whether Egypt had stationed soldiers on the Gulf of Aqaba coast in violation of the peace treaty, which allows Egypt to put only police with sidearms in the coastal region.
A senior Egyptian official in Cairo denied the killer was a soldier and said he would be court-martialed by the General Security Police Force.
Israeli Health Minister Mordechai Gur said witnesses reported that the gunfire came from different directions, but cautioned that the reports might be unreliable.
Other officials said autopsies were being conducted to determine if more than one weapon was used.
In Cairo, President Hosni Mubarak called the shootings a ″small accident″ that was the work of a man ″who lost his mind.″ Mubarak sent condolences to Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres Saturday.
Israel sent Egypt a sharply worded demand for a reply within 48 hours about possible treaty violations, progress in the inquiry and an explanation as to why the victims were denied prompt medical attention, the Foreign Ministry said.
Peres sent a separate message to Mubarak expressing concern about the ″hostile atmosphere″ between the two countries, which he said was casting a shadow over hopes to broaden the peace, Israel Radio said.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, interviewed on Israel Television, said Israel was demanding that Egypt give ″an account of what happened.″
In another Israeli television interview, Egypt’s charge d’affaires, Mohammed Bassiouny, said the shooting began when a policeman grabbed his commander’s rifle and began firing at a bus. ″He did not know who was in the bus. They might have been French or German tourists,″ he said.
Gur claimed the Egyptians ″did not take the minimum steps to treat casualites.″ Witnesses said the Egyptians prevented an Israeli doctor and army-trained medics from giving the victims first aid.
The victims reached a hospital in the Israeli port of Eilat eight hours after the shooting. They were flown by helicopters of the Multinational Force, a U.S.-led international unit sent to the Sinai when Israel relinquished the peninsula in 1982 under the terms of the peace treaty.
Authorities identifed the slain Israelis as Chamun Shalach, 44, a Jerusalem magistrate, his wife, Ilana, and their daughter, Tzalil, 11; Anita Griffel, 38; Ofra Turel, 12; Amir Baum, 10, and a fourth child, Dina Ari.
A source at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a 10-year-old victim bled to death from a bullet wound in the leg that was left untreated for several hours.
The shooting capped a week of bloodletting in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It came a few hours after the bodies of three Israelis were found in Israel in what police called terrorist murders.
Israeli jets bombed the Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in Tunisia on Tuesday, reportedly killing 73 people, in retaliation for the Sept. 25 slaying of three Israelis aboard a yacht in Larnaca, Cyprus.