Egypt vows protection after attack on Israeli embassy

Bethany Bell reports on the violence outside the Israeli embassy

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Egypt has vowed to protect all embassies in the country, hours after protesters stormed the Israeli mission, prompting the evacuation of diplomats.

The interim military government said protesters involved in the attack on the Israeli mission would be tried in an emergency state security court.

Egypt is on alert after the attack, in which three people died as security forces fought rioters in Cairo.

Anti-Israeli feeling rose after violence on the Gaza border last month.

Five Egyptian policemen were killed as Israeli forces pursued Palestinian militants.

The clashes at the Israeli embassy, which went on through Friday night, have shocked people both in Egypt and abroad, the BBC's Bethany Bell reports from the Egyptian capital.

Reports on Egyptian State TV said Prime Minister Essam Sharaf had offered to step down but his resignation was refused by the country's military leader, Field Marshal Tantawi.

Under Egypt's former leader, Hosni Mubarak, such violent displays of anger against Israel would not have been tolerated, our correspondent says.

Now the army has to try to balance the demands of its angry people and its longstanding strategic commitments, she adds.

Staff rescued

Analysis

There is a sharp increase in tension in what was already a very cold peace. Egypt is one of only two Arab countries to have a peace deal with Israel. Anti-Israel sentiment is certainly very deep-seated here, but this open expression is something quite new.

It's grown much more vocal since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak. These protests were sparked when Egyptian border guards were killed last month [on the border with Israel]. There have been people outside the embassy for a number of days.

I spoke to one of them and she said, "We've been brought up to hate Israel but now we can express this openly. Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, no Egyptian blood will go unavenged."

Israel evacuated its ambassador Yitzhak Levanon and nearly all its diplomats.

Altogether 80 people - embassy staff and their families - were flown out overnight to Israel.

Six members of the embassy staff were trapped inside the building during the riot and had to be rescued by Egyptian commandos, an Israeli official told the BBC.

The Israeli consul remains in Cairo as acting ambassador.

A spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Ambassador Levanon would return to Cairo as soon as security permitted.

"There is a new Egyptian administration with which we are fully and painstakingly coordinating. And it is the intent of this Egyptian administration, as it is that of the government of Israel, to preserve the peace that has been preserved for more than 30 years," Roni Sofer told Israeli army radio.

Egypt is one of only two Arab countries - along with Jordan - to have made peace with Israel.

Friday prayers

The Egyptian state news agency Mena said 448 people had been injured in the clashes overnight into Saturday.

The unrest began after Friday prayers, when thousands converged on Cairo's Tahrir Square to demand faster political reforms following the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in February.

Egyptian protesters in the Israeli embassy building An Israeli official said documents thrown by protesters appeared to be pamphlets from the foyer

From there, hundreds marched on the Israeli embassy. They smashed through a security wall around the building before a group of about 30 broke in and threw documents out of windows.

An Israeli official told the BBC the intruders had entered consular offices, but not the main embassy.

After initially standing by, police moved against the protesters, firing tear gas. Several vehicles were set alight.

Live TV pictures in the early hours of Saturday showed protesters throwing petrol bombs at police vans which drove at a crowd of people to try to scatter them.

Shots were heard in the area but it is not clear who fired them. Protesters also attacked a police station nearby.

Hundreds of protesters remained near the embassy until after dawn, burning tyres in the street and chanting slogans against Egypt's military rulers.

The health ministry said that one of the three people who died had suffered a heart attack.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the attack, and called on the Egyptian authorities to meet their obligations to protect diplomatic property and staff.

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