Middle East

Egypt Israel border attack leaves 'eight gunmen dead'

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Media captionBBC's Yolande Knell: "They'd been breaking their daily fast ... when heavily armed men opened fire on their post"

Israel says it has found the bodies of eight gunmen who attacked a checkpoint on its border with Egypt, killing 16 Egyptian policemen.

The attackers attacked a border post at Rafah, captured two Egyptian army vehicles and then tried to smash their way over the border, Israel said.

One vehicle apparently blew up at the Kerem Shalom crossing, while the other was destroyed by the Israeli air force.

Egypt has declared three days of mourning for the dead policemen.

The Egyptian army vowed to avenge the deaths, in a statement carried by the official news agency Mena.

Islamist militants have been blamed by both sides for carrying out the raid.

The attack on the border post close to Gaza and Israel took place at about 20:00 local time (18:00 GMT) - when the sun was setting and the guards had stopped work for the traditional iftar meal, which breaks the daily fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Masked gunmen dressed as Bedouin nomads opened fire on police with guns and rocket-propelled grenades, Egyptian state television said.

Sixteen soldiers and border guards were killed and another seven were wounded, officials said.

Minutes later, one armoured vehicle taken by the gunmen blew up and another crossed the border into Israel before it was hit by the air force, Israeli media reported.

In all, eight militants were killed, Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak told a parliamentary committee in Jerusalem.

The vehicle that blew up was loaded with explosives, the Israeli prime minister's spokesman, Ofir Gendelman, said on Twitter.

The aim of the militants was to use stolen vehicles to target Israeli civilians, Israeli officials said.

'Cowardly attack'

Visiting the Kerem Shalom crossing on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was saddened by the deaths of the Egyptian policemen.

"I think it is clear that Israel and Egypt have a common interest in keeping the border between us peaceful," he said.

But he added that the incident showed Israel had to rely on its own forces to ensure its security. Defence Minister Barak described the incident as a wake-up call for Egypt.

Image caption The attackers tried to force their way into Israel with captured Egyptian army vehicles

Egypt's state news agency quoted a top security official who said the gunmen were "jihadists" who had infiltrated from the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army had been prepared for such an incident and had stepped up patrols along the border with Gaza, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Brig-Gen Yoav Mordechai was quoted as saying.

Egypt's President Mohammed Mursi held an emergency meeting with military and security officials after the attack.

In a televised statement, he condemned what he called a "cowardly" attack and said the security forces would "take full control" of the Sinai peninsula.

As the search for any remaining gunmen continues, Egypt has closed its Rafah border crossing with Gaza, our Cairo correspondent Yolande Knell reports.

The Islamist Hamas movement, which governs Gaza, has condemned the attack.

The attack will be seen as more worrying evidence that Islamist militants have a firm foothold in the restive Northern Sinai region, our correspondent says.

They have been blamed for several rocket attacks against Israel and a cross-border raid that killed eight Israelis last year.

Recently, there have also been repeated attacks on the pipeline that exports gas to Israel and Jordan. Last month, two Egyptian soldiers were shot dead.

Egypt's military sent extra tanks and troops into the Sinai last year. The terms had to be agreed with Israel under the terms of the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries, our correspondent says.