Official sources from both sides said that three Israeli soldiers and a member of the Egyptian security forces were killed today, Saturday, June 3, in a rare exchange of fire near the border between the two countries.
The Israeli military said an Egyptian assailant shot dead two soldiers “early in the morning… while they were securing a military post on the Egyptian border” on Mount Haref near the town of Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev desert. The discovery of their bodies led to a manhunt, during which the third soldier was killed.
An Israeli army statement identified the attacker as an Egyptian policeman, saying that Israeli forces killed him after finding him “in Israeli territory”. The statement said the investigation was being conducted “in full cooperation with the Egyptian army”.
The army added that a fourth Israeli soldier, a non-commissioned officer, sustained minor injuries and was taken to hospital. The Egyptian army spokesman said, “A member of the security forces…chased drug smugglers. During the pursuit, the security officer crossed the (border) security fence,” and an exchange of fire took place.
Egypt was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel after the Camp David Accords of 1978. Their shared border is largely peaceful, though there is occasional exchange of gunfire between drug smugglers and Israeli forces.
The IDF had initially refused to confirm media reports that the first two people had been killed, while the families had been notified. It explained in a statement that the two soldiers, two men and a woman, were killed by live bullets near the border.
The woman was later identified as 19-year-old Leah Ben Noun.
An Israeli army spokesman said that hours before the fatal shooting, Israeli soldiers thwarted a drug smuggling attempt at the border, and seized contraband worth an estimated 1.5 million shekels ($400,000).
The spokesman added that no link has been established between the drug seizure and the attack on the border post.
Several previous incidents occurred along Israel’s border with Egypt. In 2011, assailants who entered from Sinai killed eight Israelis in a three-way ambush north of Eilat. The pursuing Israeli forces killed seven attackers and five Egyptian policemen.
In 2012, an Israeli soldier and three gunmen who infiltrated from Sinai were killed in a clash along the border. In 2014, two Israeli soldiers on patrol were wounded by unidentified gunmen firing an anti-tank weapon from Sinai while trying to smuggle drugs.
And in 2015, rockets fired from Sinai fell into southern Israel without causing any casualties. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack.